For several months, Wagner’s men have established themselves in Mali. How was their presence decided? How many are there and where are they deployed? How are they financed?
Everyone made sure to bring their files. Emmanuel Macron, black suit and matching tie, placed a shirt of the same color under his left hand.
The French president took care to prepare something to take a few notes. The former Minister of the Economy was well educated: several of his elders in government once taught him that a good politician never travels without some papers under his arm. Question of credibility.
A few meters away, on the other side of a five-meter long table, Vladimir Putin observes him. Dressed in a navy blue that contrasts with the cream hues of the Kremlin representational room, elbows apart, the Russian head of state has planted his heels in the ground. The posture evokes nonchalance, assurance and experience.
For five hours, this February 7, the two adversaries discuss security in Eastern Europe and the crisis affecting Ukraine, threatened with invasion by Russia. But Mali is also on the menu of discussions.
For several months, Paris has been denouncing the growing involvement of the Wagner group in Bamako, while Moscow has confined itself to denying any link with these mercenaries. Emmanuel Macron is not fooled.
He has at his disposal information from his intelligence services proving the connection between the group and Evgueni Prigojine, a familiar of the one who is facing him today, on the other side of the huge table.
The French president knows it, this arrival of mercenaries in Mali which precipitated the withdrawal of Barkhane was done with the approval of the Kremlin.
This is not the first time that Emmanuel Macron has denounced this relationship. He did it a few months ago about another African country, the Central African Republic, and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also repeated it.
It takes more to destabilize Vladimir Putin. The latter knows he is discovered but protected. The Wagner Group has no legal existence in Russia, where private military companies are banned. And no one has ever been able to get their hands on a direct order from the Kremlin to the mercenaries. So the Russian president denies.
Wagner’s reported missions in Mali—training for the Malian military and protection for government officials.
Russia and the Wagner Group are also active in CAR, a country mired in civil conflict. In CAR, Wagner nominally trains the Central African military and provides protection to senior government officials like President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
Yet the Wagner Group has also facilitated the diplomatic and economic activities of companies and individuals linked to Putin’s associate, Prigozhin. One of these entities, Lobaye Invest, secured mining concessions as a result of the agreement that brought PMCs to CAR, and continues to operate gold and diamond mines with the assistance of PMC personnel.
A Russian national with ties to military intelligence services, Valery Zakharov, currently serves as a national security advisor to Touadéra and also has financial links to Prigozhin-controlled companies.