Reports that Mali’s military junta has negotiated a prospective deal to bring in 1,000 Russian mercenaries from the notorious Wagner Group are anything but surprising.
Russia has been trying to expand its influence in Mali for the past several years. Disinformation campaigns first seen in 2019 were instrumental in stirring up the protests that toppled democratically elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020.
In addition to maligning Keïta, the messages from these campaigns were anti-French, disparaging of democracy, and pro-Russian. Curiously, dozens of people who came onto the streets following the coup were waving Russian flag placards. Several of the coup leaders, moreover, had just returned from an extended security assistance training in Moscow. And the Russian Ambassador in Mali, Igor Gromyko, was one of the first foreign officials to be received by the junta. So, the prospective deal with Wagner can be seen as a continuation of this sequence.