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Mali - Russia Relations

Russia may benefit from strengthening contacts with Mali due to its strategic location and huge mineral reserves. In Soviet / Russian universities, a total of over 10 thousand Malian specialists were trained, which constitute the backbone of the country's current intellectual elite. Having Russian mercenaries in Mali would strengthen Moscow’s push for global prestige and influence, and be part of a wider campaign to shake up long-standing power dynamics in Africa.

Mali asked private Russian companies to boost security, as the Malian leader accused France of abandoning the conflict-ridden country by preparing a large troop drawdown. European countries warned the Malian government on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2021 against hiring paramilitaries from the controversial Wagner group. But with Paris set to reduce its military presence in Mali, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the Malian government was turning towards "private" Russian companies. "This is activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis," he said during a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York. "We have nothing to do with that," he added, saying the Malian government estimated that "its own capacities would be insufficient in the absence of external support" and initiated the discussions. According to reports, Mali's army-dominated government in Bamako is close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries.

Diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Republic of Mali were established on October 14, 1960. Mali's first President, Modibo Keita, welcomed Soviet assistance in order to lessen dependence on France and to enhance his credentials as a radical socialist African leader. The Soviet Mission was quite popular among the Malian politicians. The Soviets offered aid and advisers. In the Republic of Mali, as stipulated in the agreement on economic and technical cooperation of March 18, 1961, the U.S.S.R. helped to build enterprises and further the 4-year plan of development of this country (1960-63). In particular Soviet organizations are providing technical assistance for various projects including for establishment of an educational center for 300 students, training national cadres.

Mali under Keita showed its political leanings by holding protest marches at night with torches, objecting to the killing of Lumumba in the Congo. The Malians made it clear at the time that they thought foul play was involved in Lumumba's death, and the West was responsible. It was the beginning of discussions among Malians whether to leave the West African French Franc Zone and discontinue membership in the French Union, and questioning their ties to the former colonial power.

The Malians were aware of the problems the Guineans had with the Soviets, but Sekou Toure was an African hero, a nationalist, who had dared to defy De Gaulle. The Malians did not want to offend anybody. They did not defy De Gaulle. Mali initially remained in the French Franc Zone, part of West Africa, and with close links to the West. The U.S. had put its best foot forward and Mali did not present an opportunity for communist countries to subvert it or wean Mali away from the path of democracy.

the French, in punishment for the elimination of their military base, cut off the supply of food to Mali. And then the Soviets began to supply sugar from beets, about which the population at first thought that it was defective. The fact is that they are accustomed to cane, which dissolves immediately. There were many such incidents.

The regime which overthrew Modibo Keita in 1968 improved relations with France and other Western countries, but continued to seek military assistance from the USSR and the army officers who were Mali's political leaders were almost totally dependent on the USSR for military the equipment and training.

As of 1976 about 50 Soviet advisers provided armor, artillery, and parachute training and all Mali's pilots were Soviet-trained. Soviet personnel maintained Mali's civilian as well as military aircraft and all depended entirely on the USSR for spare parts. The Soviets improved Mali's air force base at Mopti and surveyed other Malian airfields. Moscow signed military agreements with Mali totaling $21 million since 1960. The Soviets occasionally used Malian airfields to stage arms supply flights during the Angola crisis, and Mali would probably grant Moscow transit privileges for the support of other southern African liberation groups.

The Soviets upgraded airfieldsin Mali. The runway of the old Bamako airport was lengthened from 2,100 to 3,000 meters. A possible objective was to provide improved facilities for Soviet transport aircraft in case of future airlifts to southern Africa. Malian as well as Guinean airfields were used during the Soviet airlift to Angola. Mali was an unlikely choice for a staging area for Bear Ds, however, for several reasons. Its landlocked location could raise potentially serious problems of overflight rights needed to permit regular Bear D operations. Similarly, the lack of open sea access would complicate logistic support, particularly in time of crisis.

Until 1991 the ties between the two countries were broad and diversified. The USSR provided significant assistance in the formation of an independent Malian state in almost all vital spheres. In Mali, large-scale geological exploration work was carried out, a mineralogical map of the country was drawn up, a cement plant, a stadium in Bamako, a vocational school, and a hospital. Gabriel Touré. About 9 thousand hectares of new rice land were developed at the Office du Nijer farm, the National Society for the Exploration and Exploitation of National Resources of Mali, the Kalana gold mining enterprise, and an airfield in Gao were built. The total amount of loans provided by the USSR to Mali amounted to 570 million US dollars. 6 educational institutions were built free of charge, including the Agricultural Polytechnic Institute, the Higher Administrative School, and a medical school.

As the Cold War came to a close in 1990, only a few countries in Africa had experience with regular, multiparty elections. The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in the “third wave” of democratization: African countries quickly began to transition from authoritarian and military regimes to multiparty politics.

On January 16, 1992, the Government of Mali recognized the Russian Federation as the successor state of the Soviet Union. Promising areas of trade and economic cooperation are geological exploration and exploitation of deposits of gold, uranium, phosphates, iron, rare earth metals; refining of gold-bearing ore; production of packaging materials for fruits and vegetables; supply of power equipment; infrastructure projects, including the construction of roads and hydraulic structures; purchase and processing of cotton, shea nuts, mangoes.

Trade turnover between Russia and Mali in 2014 decreased to USD 6.6 million (in 2013 - USD 20.6 million). The structure of Russian exports is dominated by chemical products, metals and metal products.

Military-technical cooperation is carried out on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement signed in Moscow on March 25, 2003. November 23-27, 2014 The first working visit of the Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs of Mali B. N'Dau to Moscow took place. Created in May 2009, the joint Russian-Malian working group on combating terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking held three meetings in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Against the backdrop of another military coup in Mali, street protests resumed. The Malian population was dissatisfied with the ongoing French military intervention. According to citizens, in addition to fighting Islamist groups, the anti-terrorist operation of the French Armed Forces may have other goals. Against this background, by May 2021 the Malians were asking for help from Russia - for several days now, small demonstrations with such appeals have been held near the building of the Russian embassy. The demonstrations took place on May 26-27, a few days after the second military coup in the last year.

The National Youth Movement for the Support of Cooperation Mali-Russia (MNJSC Mali-Russia) called for a demonstration to demand a Mali-Russia defense agreement. The demonstration is slated to occur at 2:00 PM on Friday, May 28, 2021, in the vicinity of the Esplanade de la Bourse du Travail. Malian authorities were aware of, but had not initially approved, the protest.

Russian expert-Africanist Sergei Eledinov, expressed the opinion that one of the reasons for Russia's popularity among a part of Malian society may be associated with Russian media influence. “Probably, a successful media case about Russian intervention in the Central African Republic played its role in Mali, where Russian instructors provide some kind of assistance. This allegedly allowed them to take control of the situation, although in reality this is not entirely true.” the expert noted.

On 21 June 2021, Deputy Permanent Representative Anna Evstigneeva at UNSC briefing on the situation in Mali stated " the improvement of the situation on the ground, implementation of the peace agreement, eradication of terrorism, betterment of socio-economic aspects – it all depends on the internal political stability in the first place. Struggle for power that triggered two acute crises over the past year can hardly add value to this.... despite all controversies, it would be reckless to leave Mali to the mercy of fate amidst the current situation and cut the military and economic assistance it receives. Stakes for security in Mali and the entire region are too high. We are ready to interact closely with the international stakeholders in order to stabilize the situation in Mali and the region at large."

As relations with France have worsened, Mali's military junta had increased contacts with Russia, including Defence Minister Sadio Camara visiting Moscow and overseeing tank exercises on 04 September 2021. By September 2021 a deal is close that would allow Russian mercenaries into Mali. Such an agreement would extend Russian influence over security affairs in West Africa and trigger fierce opposition from former colonial power France, which has spent eight years fighting terrorism in this troubled region. Paris began a diplomatic drive to prevent the military junta in Mali enacting the deal – which would permit Russian private military contractors, the Wagner Group, to operate there.

The Wagner Group has been deployed in Syria, Libya, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa: in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Mozambique, and Mali, at a minimum. While many refer to the Wagner Group as a private military company, it is not a typical PMC. It has a very close relationship with the Russian state. Putin himself publicly acknowledged the Wagner Group’s existence at a press conference in December 2018, despite the illegality of such groups in Russia, saying in a remarkable example of double-speak, “As long as they don’t violate Russian law, they have the right to work, to pursue their business interests, in any spot on the planet.” The Wagner Group trains across a rural highway in Molkino, Krasnodar, from a GRU spetsnaz training camp.

The Wagner Group would be paid about 6 billion CFA francs (€9m/$10.8m) a month for its services in Mali. One security source working in the region said the mercenaries would train Malian military and provide protection for senior officials. At least 1,000 mercenaries could be involved.

Sixteen Western countries issued on 23 December 2021 a joint statement condemning what they said was the "deployment" of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group in Mali. Among the signatories of the statement are Canada, as well as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and 11 other European allies. The United States is not a signatory of the statement, but US Secretary of State Antony Blinkon earlier warned Mali not to accept Wagner mercenaries.

"This deployment can only further deteriorate the security situation in West Africa, lead to an aggravation of the Human Rights situation in Mali, threaten the Agreement for peace and reconciliation in Mali," the statement said. The statement accused Russia of giving material support to the Wagner Group, calling on Russia to "revert to a responsible and constructive behavior in the region." The statement also said that the signatories regretted the choice of Mali's authorities to use "scarce public funds" to pay foreign mercenaries instead of paying their own armed forces.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2022 20:12:58 ZULU