A mass grave discovered by Malian soldiers near a vacated French base prompted Paris to accuse a private Russian paramilitary organisation, Wagner Group, of planting corpses there to smear the French Armed Forces. However, Bamako renounced its military cooperation agreement with France on 2 May following the gruesome discovery.
“France is desperate to maintain its influence and control of West Africa on which it depends for its own economy and will do anything to discredit the government of Mali and of course any Russian assistance it is receiving,” says Christopher C. Black, international criminal lawyer with 20 years of experience in war crimes and international relations. “France has prevented the development of the West African nations by controlling their currencies and their governments and has overthrown governments they do not like. We saw that with their arrest of President Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire in 2010 and then delivering him to the hands of the ICC which has held him ever since when there is no evidence whatsoever against him.”
Mali announced that it had requested help from Russian private paramilitary organisation Wagner on 25 September, following French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to pull out from the landlocked African country in June 2021. Macron’s change of heart was triggered by Vice President Assimi Goita’s removal of the civilian interim leadership and placing himself in charge of the transitional government in May 2021.
The announced withdrawal of at least half of France’s 5,000-strong contingent marked the end of Paris’ Operation Barkhane in the country. The anti-terror initiative was launched by France in August 2014 in cooperation with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel), which were shattered by the spread of terrorist activities stemming from the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi government in Libya in 2011.
Bamako’s decision to hire Wagner Group specialists triggered a storm of criticism from France and other EU states, who claimed that Moscow was behind the deal. The Russian Foreign Ministry refuted the claims, explaining that Wagner has nothing to do with the Russian government. For his part, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said that after France’s “unilateral” decision to withdraw troops from Mali, Bamako had no other options but to seek out alternatives to defend itself.
“The series of coups recently in West Africa (Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso) indicate that French influence is declining as these nations finally are able to break the colonial stranglehold on them,” says Black. “That Russia’s influence is growing in the region is interesting and brings us memories of the Soviet support of liberation movements across Africa in prior years. The continuous allegations against Wagner and Russian mercenaries fit into NATO aggressive propaganda against Russia, and [it] has to be seen in that context.”
The lawyer notes that the West has made similar accusations regarding Libya, which was bombed and destroyed by NATO. He highlights that France and the NATO bloc has long been exercising a selective justice approach.
“Since the French – when they kicked out Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire supported Outtuara as the new leader who committed many massacres against the people who supported Gbagbo in 2010, and turned a blind eye to and supported those massacres, one can reasonably assume that the mass grave near their former base contains the victims of their forces, not of Russian mercenaries,” Black points out.
‘It’s Up to Mali to Dig to the Bottom of This’
The discovery of a mass grave outside a military base in Gossi, northern Mali, has exacerbated the already tense relations between Bamako and Paris. The bodies were found two days after French forces left the base.
A preliminary investigation by the Malian military said that the state of the bodies’ decomposition “indicates that this mass grave existed well before the [French] handover” of the facility to the Malian side. Local media alleged that the corpses may have been those of a group of Malian shepherds who had gone missing prior to the French military pull-out from Gossi.
The French military’s record of alleged war crimes in the country adds to the suspicions that the people found in the mass grave could have been kidnapped and killed by the French military.
“Let’s go with the facts,” says Alessandro Bruno, geopolitical analyst and political observer at Lombardi Letter. “The alleged mass grave is located in an area close to one of the main French bases. So that already would be rather incriminating. Apparently, according to local sources, the bodies were in a state of high decomposition, suggesting that whatever happened did not happen at the time of their burial.”
The French military has denied responsibility and claimed that the Wagner Group deliberately brought and dumped the bodies near the Gossi base to smear the French Army. The French released grainy drone footage of unidentified, allegedly Caucasian, men in military gear manipulating bodies near the facility. When asked by the BBC to present a higher-quality video, the French military said it couldn’t do so for “security reasons.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry commented on the allegations, saying that French authorities were trying to “shift the blame” for their sins amid the Malian military’s greater “success in cleansing the republic from the terrorist threat” than French forces had in over nine years of fighting. Moscow called for a thorough investigation into the killings of Malian civilians and urged the French to assist the probe.
“The only people who can conduct an investigation are the Malian authorities, whose country it is,” says Black. “Certainly not the French who are involved and certainly no one from the NATO gang who are bent on discrediting Russia at every opportunity.”
The lawyer expects that the West will overlook the alleged French crimes: previously it has turned a blind eye to the crimes of the USA, Canada, Britain, Belgium in central Africa, East Africa, etc and the Horn of Africa, as well as the conflicts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia.
“France is the leading military power in the European Union,” says Bruno. “With that kind of ‘prestige’, France is eager to avoid even being reminded of its activities in the Sahel. I think that the press has been very happy to deflect any negative attention from European states’ activities in Africa, in the Sahel, or in the Middle East.”
‘Russia is Always to Blame’
Meanwhile, Russia has been turned into a “scapegoat” which is used by the West to evade responsibility for its misdeeds, the observers say.
“Russia has now become what is referred to as the ‘fall guy’ for any atrocity occurring anywhere in the world,” says Philip Giraldi, former CIA station chief and military intelligence officer. “It is always convenient for the Western media and governments to blame Russia without any regard for the actual facts relating to what happened. Note for example the ridiculous reports that the Russian soldiers have been the ‘butchers of Syria’ while in fact, they have saved the country from Islamic atrocities. There will no doubt be more of this.”
Furthermore, “Russia the bogeyman” is the major justification for the continued existence of the Cold War-era NATO bloc, the ongoing arms race, and the huge profits of the Western military-industrial complex, according to Professor Alfred de Zayas, former UN Independent Expert on International Order and author of 10 books including “Building a Just World Order.”
According to the former UN expert, one should expect more evidence-free allegations and false flag operations against Russia and its private paramilitary organisations in the coming weeks. “Meanwhile we know of many foreign mercenaries and private security companies working for the US and NATO in Ukraine,” says de Zayas.
“There is plenty for investigative journalists to dig their teeth into,” if they want to uncover the level of US, Canada, UK, French overt and covert involvement in the Ukraine crisis, the Ukrainian military atrocities against civilians and Russian prisoners of war (POWs), and the actual fighting, according to the professor.
“To all impartial observers, it appears that France was caught red-handed in the commission of a war crime in Mali,” says Joe Quinn, political commentator and author based in Paris. “Luckily for France, media outlets in the ‘international community’ had already been working hard to portray the Russian military operation in Ukraine as, effectively, one big war crime. It was logical, therefore, to shift the focus on to Russian actions in Ukraine in order to distract from French actions in Mali in order to maintain France’s unwarranted reputation as being a ‘force for good’ in Mali.”