Putin..the new African champion
LONDON – France is doing everything it can to prevent Russia’s Wagner Group from gaining positions of influence in the Sahel-Saharan region.
While the new military council in Mali insists on signing an agreement with the group, Paris is pushing the leaders of the countries in the region to show their categorical rejection of the presence of the Wagner Group, which employs hundreds of mercenaries in its areas of concentration to achieve political, security and economic goals that benefit Russia.
Chad’s Foreign Minister Sherif Mohamed Zein warned Thursday that any “external interference, regardless of its source, represents a very serious problem for my country’s stability and security,” in response to a question about the Wagner Group, stressing that all measures will be taken to “ensure” Chad’s protection.
Observers believe that the Chadian minister’s statements come in the context of a French desire to fortify the Sahel and Sahara region against any external interference that contradicts the interests of Paris and its alliances in a region it considers a special playground in which no one is allowed to move without its permission.
Observers point out that the limited pressure that Paris can exert to prevent Wagner from entering Mali, and expanding in the Sahel and Sahara, prompt it to incite the regional leaders to announce their opposition to the existence of a group that competed with France’s interests in Central Africa.
It seems that the smell of oil and the news of the discovery of precious metals such as uranium and gold in Mali have prompted Wagner to make it a next target for its presence, after Libya, taking advantage of the difficulties that the new military council is having in obtaining regional and international recognition.
Although Wagner appears in the picture as a private security group like other well-known security groups, its dual nature, military and economic, will make it more loyal and committed towards Russia, and this is what France fears, that Moscow is covertly controlling the group’s movement since its interventions in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central Africa and now in Mali.
The official Russian disavowal of the group allows Wagner’s leaders and soldiers to move freely in the absence of diplomatic pressure, as well as the absence of legal accountability for the charges brought against it from more than one side, including the Chadian Foreign Minister, who accused it of training opposition fighters who participated in the assassination of former Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno last April.
The group was known for its concentration in vital economic areas. In Libya, the group was stationed in the oil crescent, and it supported the commander of the National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, because he had succeeded in bringing the various oil fields under his authority. In Central Africa, the group dominated the mineral-producing regions.
This was not the first time that France showed its concern about the role played by the Wagner Group, as it had previously expressed its disquiet about the role the group plays in countries such as Central Africa.
Last June, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that Russia had embarked on a “seizure of power” in the Central African Republic through the mercenaries of the Wagner Group, while ruling out a similar threat in the African Sahel.
“In the Central African Republic, through Russian mercenaries, there is a kind of seizure of power, and military power in particular. This is what we are fighting against, and this is what prompted us to take measures to withdraw a number of our military personnel.”
France appreciates the danger of security companies and the ability of their members to carry out complex tasks, as they are the heirs of the mercenary formations that French intelligence has benefited from in Africa, which were used by Western powers such as the United States and Britain in tasks designed by its intelligence services.
The late French operative, Bob Dinar, was one of the arms of Western intelligence services in Africa and the Middle East, as he was able, with a small number of mercenary soldiers, to seize power in a number of African countries and hand it over to agencies prepared to serve their interests. Dinar actively participated in the war in Yemen in the 1960s on the side of the Saudi-backed Imami forces against the republican revolutionaries.
Wagner and its network of commercial and military relations recall one of the most famous military colonial projects, the East India Company, which ruled the Indian subcontinent for more than a century between the so-called company and its military forces, up to the so-called “Vice King” who became the Governor-General of India, over what is known today as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Paris is struggling to maintain its influence in Africa, which has historically represented a vital location for French interests, but in recent years it has faced many difficulties due to the multiplicity of its opponents, especially the jihadist groups in West Africa, which have gained combat experience and the ability to move and maneuver, forcing the French to involve government forces of Sahel countries, and is now looking for ways to withdraw its forces and support local forces in order to continue the complex war on terrorism.
Russia’s entry into Mali would add a strong competitor into the equation for France, which in recent years has engaged in open conflict with the United States over positions of influence in Africa, as well as confronting difficult security challenges with extremist organizations.
Many extremist organizations are active in the African Sahel region, including the branch of “Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.” These organizations launch attacks from time to time targeting military barracks and foreigners in the Sahel countries, especially in Mali.
While the joint border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso has turned into a new stronghold for extremist organizations, the French “Barkhane” operation, which included 5,100 soldiers, failed to clear the area of militants, despite the presence of African Union forces and the arrival of military support from European countries.
France announced in early July 2021 that it would resume joint military operations in Mali after suspending them in early June, following a military coup in the country, the second in less than a year.
Translation by Internationalist 360°