According to the RIA news agency, citing a senior Russian diplomat’s statement on Monday, Russia will continue to provide military assistance in Mali despite heavy criticism from the West. France, Canada, and thirteen other European countries have condemned Moscow for the alleged deployment of private military contractors from the Russia-backed Wagner Group to Mali, reports Reuters. Mali’s government is battling an Islamist insurgency, as decades of instability caused by separatist resistance and recurring military coups have raised major humanitarian and security concerns.
Russia’s director of the foreign ministry’s department for international organizations, Pyotr Ilyichev, was quoted as saying, “We will continue to defend Bamako’s legitimate interests at the U.N. and also to provide active assistance to our Malian partners in the military and military-technical spheres through state channels.” In what is noted as one of the first official responses on behalf of the Western powers, France and 14 European allies stated, “This deployment can only further deteriorate the security situation in West Africa, lead to an aggravation of the human rights situation in Mali [and] threaten the agreement for peace and reconciliation in Mali.”
What the Russian government calls a bilateral agreement between themselves and Mali has allowed for the delivery of more weapons and ammunition into an already war-torn and unstable territory. The Wagner Group, well known to be a Russian paramilitary group, has been cited in the past for what CNN calls serious human rights abuses, including torture and arbitrary killings. Russia’s refusal to back down poses a major threat to the security of Mali, where tensions already run high. The growing number of human rights abuses speaks to a lack of strict action on behalf of powers of the likes of France and the U.S., despite their condemnation of the atrocities.
Today’s crisis in Mali dates back to 2012 when an Islamist-backed separatist group rebelled for the fourth time. Mali’s then-president was removed from power by way of a military coup, leaving a power vacuum to be filled by Islamist groups. Since the spread of the crisis, France, in particular, took a strong hand in deploying troops to stamp out the spread of militancy, and by 2015 the U.S. had joined as well. Despite ongoing international involvement, the strength of militant groups in Mali has continued, allowing for growing destabilization caused by the Islamist State. Now, there is evidence of the Russian-backed Wagner Group supporting militant forces. Russia’s involvement threatens to heighten security and human rights concerns, despite numerous sanctions imposed upon the Wagner Group.
The Human Rights Watch reported in 2019 of 85,000 civilians fleeing their homes, and 400 killed in incidents of communal violence. Mali’s ongoing history of instability, and the international community’s continuous struggle against the spread of militancy in the region, point to the need for new forms of accountability. Russia’s actions on Monday only exacerbate the threat to human rights and security and call for new solutions on behalf of those condemning their actions. The continuous deployment of soldiers on behalf of France, the U.N., and other powers has proven to be ineffective when what is necessary now is an effort to peacefully move forward in establishing a government that ultimately recognizes and protects civilian rights.