Russia expands military presence in Mali amidst Wagner transformation

By Kent Mensah in Accra March 7, 2024

Satellite imagery from Maxar dated February 26 reveals ongoing construction work at a former site of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military contractor, indicating Russia's expansion of its military base in Mali. 

The site, located at Modibo Keita International Airport near Bamako, displays new buildings, roads, and excavations, suggesting increased activity since July, according to Military Africa

Despite the death of Wagner's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in August 2023, Russia remains dedicated to bolstering its presence in Mali and the wider region, which has seen a spate of coups in the past few years. 

This move follows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's announcement last June that Wagner members would continue operations in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). 

Moreover, Russia's creation of the 'African Legion,' a replacement for the controversial Wagner group, underscores its commitment to its strategic interests in Africa. The African Legion, formed in August 2023, comprises former Wagner operatives and private security contractors and aims to provide security, training, and protection of Russian interests across the continent, reports Military Africa

While Russia's involvement in Africa faces international scrutiny, the expansion of its base in Mali reaffirms its determination to assert influence in the region.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has begun openly supporting military juntas in West Africa, including in Mali, according to a recent report last autumn by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

At the same time, Bamako has signed deals with Russian state energy company Rosatom to produce nuclear energy, while an unnamed Russian firm has agreed to construct a solar power plant in Mali.

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