April 14, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1632

A Brief Review Of Russia's Influence Over Mali – To France's Detriment

April 14, 2022 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
Russia, Africa | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1632


On March 2, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Mali was among the 17 African countries that abstained from voting (28 African countries voted in favor of the resolution, no votes were recorded from eight countries, and one voted against the resolution).[1]

Lately, the government in Mali has been having good and comfortable relations with Russia. The country is now run by the military junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita, a military officer who has been serving as interim president since the May 2021 coup, the second such coup in nine months, that he led. Goita led the August 2020 coup as well, ousting President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (who passed away in January 2022) and replaced him with military officer Bah N'Daw. The military junta also assumed ministerial key positions. Talking about the reasons of the second coup, Goita stated that Bah Ndaw and his Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were removed from power, as they had started appointing a new cabinet without consulting him.[2]

In September 2021, international media reported that Russian private military contractors, the Wagner Group, were about to start operating in Mali in support of the military junta.[3] In January 2022, French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian commented: "[The Wagner mercenaries are] former Russian soldiers, armed by Russia and accompanied by Russian logistics... They are already at the moment using the country's resources in exchange for protecting the junta. They are despoiling Mali." He then added: "Wagner uses the weakness of certain states to implant itself... to reinforce Russia's influence in Africa."[4] Yet, Malian authorities denied the deployment of the Wagner Group in the country.[5] Commenting on this topic, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said: "Hysteria around the Russian company is yet another manifestation of double standards, for it is clear that the market for such services is monopolized by Western countries."[6]

It is worth noting that since the August 2020 coup, relations between France and Mali, a former French colony, deteriorated, the EU blacklisted Goita and his inner circle, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions. Furthermore, in February 2022, France announced that, along with its European allies, it was withdrawing its troops from the Barkhane and Takuba anti-jihadist operations in Mali due to a breakdown of its relations with the junta, although it had been fighting the jihadist insurgency for almost nine years along with the Bamako authorities.[7] French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that the suspected deal between the Malian junta and the Wagner group played a major role in the decision to withdraw French troops.[8]

2021 Pro-Russia Demonstrations In Mali

In September 2021, even though Mali denied the deployment of the Wagner Group in the country, the pro-coup Malian collective "Yerewolo" and the "Groupe des Patriotes du Mali" ("Malian Patriot Group") demonstrated in favor of the "rumored deal" between Mali and the Wagner group, showing a desire to put an end the "Françafrique [France's sphere of influence in Africa]." The spokesperson for "Yerewolo" collective Adama Ben Diarra said: "If Wagner went to liberate Syria, if Wagner went to liberate the Central African Republic, then we welcome Wagner to Bamako to liberate Mali. To an asymmetric war, we propose an asymmetric solution, which is called Wagner. This is the truth and today it is the end of French Africa."[9] "We reject the international community's diktat, particularly that of France and Ecowas," said Pape Diallo, Yerewolo communication secretary.[10]

Caption: "Viva the Malian Armed Forces" (source: Twitter)

Caption: "Thank you China and Russia for your support to Mali" (source: Twitter)

Caption: "Death to France and its allies" (Source: Twitter)

Caption: "M.P.G. 'Malian Patriot Group,' Mali-Russia Cooperation" (source:

Russia's Support to Mali

According to media sources, after the August 2020 coup, junta military officers met with Russian Ambassador Igor Gromyko at the Comité National Pour Le Salut Du Peuple (CNSP), a politico-military institution set up by soldiers who participated in the coup. Gromyko said at the time that he and the new Malian leadership had discussed "security." [11]

In December 2021, Pyotr Ilichev, director of the Russian foreign ministry's department for international organizations, also stated: "We will continue to defend Bamako's legitimate interests at the UN and also to provide active assistance to our Malian partners in the military and military-technical spheres through state channels."[12]

On March 6, 2022, almost two weeks after Russia invaded the Ukraine on February 24, it was reported that Colonel Sadio Camara, currently serving as Mali's Minister of Defense, and General Alou Boï Diarra, the Air Force's chief of staff, flew to Moscow.[13] According to media reports, the visit's goal was to discuss further delivery of additional military equipment.

On March 11, 2022, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin and Camara discussed bilateral military cooperation. During the meeting, Fomin noted the importance of Russia-Mali interaction and reaffirmed the Russian Defense Ministry's readiness for further constructive dialogue.[14]

At the end of March, Russia delivered to Mali two combat helicopters, five trucks, latest-generation radar systems, and other military equipment.[15]









Russia Blocked UN Security Council Request For Investigations Into Moura Massacre In Mali

On April 8, 2022, in the midst of the war in Ukraine, Russia – supported by China – blocked a UN Security Council request for independent investigations into the alleged massacre in Moura, in the Mopti region in Mali. According to the UN website, an independent expert on human rights Alioune Tine warned that Malian armed forces, accompanied by "Russian private military personnel [i.e., the Wagner Group]" had executed "dozens of civilians" during a military operation on March 27-31, 2022, in Moura.

"In view of the serious allegations of mass crimes, with dozens of civilians killed during these operations, I call on the Malian authorities to conduct a thorough, independent, impartial and effective investigation into all alleged violations as soon as possible," Tine said. "The findings must be made public and the alleged perpetrators brought to justice. The information received at this stage raises serious questions and concerns about potential serious violations of international human rights law and/or international humanitarian law. In addition, some of these violations may constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court," the expert added.

On the other hand, the Malian Army denied human rights violations against civilians and stated that "more than 200 terrorists have been neutralized," as a result of a "large-scale" military operation.[16] Furthermore, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova congratulated the Malian authorities "on this important victory in the fight against the terrorist threat." She then accused France of having abandoned Mali: "It should be noted that this success was achieved by the Malian military against the backdrop of the ongoing withdrawal from Mali of the French troops." Zakharova also denied accusations that Russian mercenaries took part in the mission, stating that these accusations are part of a Ukraine-linked disinformation campaign against Russia.[17]

It is worth noting that, in January 2022, Russia and China blocked the U.N. Security Council from supporting new sanctions on Mali for the junta's decision to delay the February 2022 elections until 2026.[18]

"No to all sanctions against Mali" (Source:


Deputy Permanent Representative Evstigneeva: France's Decision To Withdraw Its Troops "Violates Bilateral Agreements"

On April 7, 2022, commenting on the security situation in Mali, Deputy Permanent Representative at the Russian Mission to the UN Anna Evstigneeva said at the UNSC briefing that France violated bilateral agreements with Mali and that Paris abandoned Mali under far-fetched pretexts. She then added that the "information campaign" about "the so-called Russian mercenaries"' presence in Mali is part of an "unscrupulous geopolitical game."

Evstigneeva said: "We share the concern of the Malian leadership in connection with the escalating situation in the northern regions of the country, where, due to the curtailment of the French military presence, a security vacuum is being created. We hear from Bamako that, as in the autumn of last year, the decision on the complete withdrawal of Barkhan was made without consultations with the Malian side, which violates bilateral agreements. We consider such actions extremely irresponsible...

"At the same time, I would like to remind our Western partners that Mali and the entire Sahel were victims of your intervention in Libya in 2011. Since then, the region has become an object of active penetration of banditry and terrorism. That you nevertheless decided to help them in 2013 is worthy of respect. However, if you look at the result of your assistance, then from then until 2021 the situation there did not get better. Now, having achieved nothing, under a far-fetched pretext, you are abandoning Mali, a country that is generally recognized as a key one in terms of stability and security in the Sahel.

"With the Malians left alone in the face of serious cross-border challenges, the country's transitional authorities are forced to look for opportunities to protect the population on their own, as well as through interaction with partners and organizations from other countries. The Malian authorities have the sovereign right to decide with whom they work.

"We welcome the intensification of the counter-terrorist operations of the Malian Armed Forces and the successes achieved, as a result of which a number of settlements in the center of the country have been unblocked. We pay tribute to the Malian military and express our condolences to the families of the victims, both military and civilian and of course the UN peacekeepers. We call to respect the memory of all victims of terrorism.

"In doing so, we note the commitment of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Mali to respect for human rights, as well as international humanitarian law, and the efforts of Bamako to investigate incidents of allegations of human rights violations. We regard the information campaign about the so-called Russian mercenaries as part of an unscrupulous geopolitical game."

Concerning Russia-Mali relations, Evstigneeva said: "We would like to note that Russian-Mali cooperation has long historical roots and traditions. Russia provides assistance to the Malian armed forces on the basis of bilateral agreements. We are working to improve their combat capability, training military personnel and law enforcement officers. Currently, about 200 military personnel and nine police officers of Mali are being trained in Russia.

"We are sure that the regional sanctions imposed against the country, as well as the restrictions of a number of Western countries, do not contribute to the stabilization of Mali. They only exacerbate an already difficult situation, not to mention the deterioration of the lives of ordinary Malians. And not only the Malians, but also the population of other countries in the region. Under these conditions, it will be even more difficult for Bamako and its neighbors to cope with the threats looming over the country, the main of which is terrorism.

"Today we again heard accusations against Russia that we are allegedly provoking famine in the Sahel. Let me remind you that some time ago the climate was to blame for everything, now Russia. At the same time, Mali is subject to sanctions, borders are closed, trade routes are blocked. The population of the entire region, deprived of basic income, is suffering. But look with what slogans ordinary people come out to mass demonstrations. By the way, there is also about Russia, but not at all in the way that Western countries would like.

"In this regard, I would like to note once again that the consequences of the unprecedented, anti-Russian sanctions, which led to the disruption of all logistics and financial chains, as well as ties in the world, show most countries, including those in Africa, how important it is to fight for their political independence and own financial capabilities, overcome the colonial legacy and abandon the remaining 'neo-colonial' mechanisms."

She then concluded that Russia will continue to support the Malians. "The original version of my speech said that we expected Mali's traditional partners to find an opportunity to abandon the logic of edifying superiority and the 'language of sanctions' and, in a respectful dialogue with Bamako, find ways to overcome differences. However, after the discussion that took place today, I have to admit that such a calculation is most likely not justified and the call for equal, mutually beneficial and mutually respectful cooperation by Western countries will again not be heard," Evstigneeva stated.[19]


Russia is rebuilding its presence in Africa. Recently, Moscow is strengthening its influence also in former French colonies, such as Mali, to the detriment of France's interests in the area. The rise of Russia's influence in Mali seems to be accompanied by anti-France resentments. The anti-colonialist, pro-coup and pro-Russian movement "Groupe des Patriotes du Mali" ("Malian Patriot Group") wrote in a communique that France is "a necessary evil for renegades, assimilated [people] and for the body and the spirit of certain peoples, who want to remain forever slaves."[20]

Commenting on Ukraine, the group stated that that the global stability is threatened by "neo-nazis," referring to the West and Ukraine, that want to impose their "supremacy" over the world.[21] Indeed, Russia can count on Mali's support in the United Nations, whenever there will be a vote on Ukraine. According to the group, today Mali started to find again "quietness," thanks to "the liberation of the territory by the FAMAS [The Malian Armed Forces]," and to Russia's support that has been on from "the first hours of Mali's independence" on the country's side. Malian PM Choguel Kokalla Maiga further stated: "What is so surprising in the fact that we want to strengthen our collaboration with Russia? 80% of the Malian soldiers have done their training in Russia, [and] a good part of our military equipment comes from Russia." Hence, while France sees its influence declining in Mali, Russia seems to be getting stronger and more comfortable in the region.

*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Director of the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.


[2], June 7, 2021.

[3], September 13, 2021.

[4], January 30, 2022.

[5], December 25, 2021.

[6], January 12, 2022.

[7], February 18, 2022.

[8], February 17, 2022.

[9], September 16, 2021.

[10], November 25, 2021.

[11], November 25, 2021.

[12], December 27, 2021.

[13], March 8, 2022.

[14], March 11, 2022.

[15], March 31, 2022.

[16], April 11, 2022.

[17], April 9, 2022.

[18], January 12, 2022.

[19], April 7, 2022.

[20], March 24, 2022.

[21], March 11, 2022.

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