Ukraine war: Wagner may be smuggling weapons from Mali

Pro-Russian demonstration in Bamako - February 2022

Wagner’s influence in Mali has grown since France withdrew its troops last year

Russia’s private military group Wagner may be operating through Mali and other African countries to hide its attempts to obtain military hardware for Moscow’s war against Ukraine, US officials say.

A Treasury Department statement said employees of the group may have tried to procure mines, drones, radar and other equipment for the war.

Wagner is known to operate in some African countries, including Mali.

The statement also announced sanctions against Wagner’s Malian leader, Ivan Maslov.

Meanwhile, its boss general Yevgeny Prigozhin has accused the Russian Defense Ministry of failing to supply its personnel with arms and ammunition for operations in Ukraine.

Wagner led the Russian offensive in the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, although it began to withdraw on Thursday in order to hand over control to the Russian military.

US charges suggest he may be trying to exploit Mali’s abundance of weapons. The country saw an influx of arms following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, as mercenaries fighting for the former leader returned home.

Earlier this year, the United States designated Wagner as a transnational criminal organization. Prigozhin and other Wagnerian leaders are already under sanctions.

The group has provided Mali’s military government with assistance in the fight against Islamist insurgents.

Mr. Maslov is seen as a key Wagner figure, working with Malian officials to bolster Wagner’s presence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin in Ukraine in March

Prigozhin regularly complained about the lack of weapons and ammunition in Ukraine

“The presence of the Wagner Group on the African continent is a destabilizing force for any country that allows the deployment of the group’s resources on its sovereign territory,” the US Treasury Department said.

Wagner committed widespread human rights abuses and appropriated natural resources, he added.

The Treasury also suggested that Wagner might “seek to transit material acquisitions for Ukraine through Mali” and was “willing to use false papers for these transactions.”

The statement also accuses Wagner of supplying the Sudan Rapid Support Forces with missiles for its conflict with the Sudanese military.

Russia is seeking to expand its influence in Africa as it seeks new allies in the war with Ukraine.

His involvement in West Africa predates the war, but evidence suggests that Wagner’s operations there were no more successful than those of other forces, such as former colonial power France.

France withdrew its troops from Mali in February last year following disagreements with the military government which took power in 2020.

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