The Wagner mercenary group, which is aided and abetted by the Russian state, has already set up basic military infrastructure in the African state in which Monaco has helped establish better infrastructure and health and education services over a number of years.

The Monaco Corporation has helped build health clinics to offer procedures that previously were unknown in this desperately poor landlocked country.

Just before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, in February 2020, Monaco’s foreign minister, Laurent Anselmi, led a delegation from the Monaco Corporation, the Principality’s aid arm, on a working visit, including field visits to inspect a number of aid partnerships with the Malian authorities and with Monegasque Cooperation partners working in civil protection, health, education and socio-economic integration of the most vulnerable sections of the population.

Ostensibly, the Wagner Group has been invited by Mali’s present government – installed in a coup – to fight a long-term Islamist insurgency.

On Friday, December 24, a Malian government spokesman, Abdoulaye Maiga, denied that “elements of a private security company” had been deployed to Mali. He said “Russian trainers” were present.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Wagner Group does not represent the Russian state, but that private military contractors have the right to work anywhere in the world so long as they do not break Russian law. Wagner Group operatives have worked for the Assad regime, and in eastern Ukraine helping the separatists. In 2016, Wagner operatives were active in the Central African Republic, filling a void left by French forces when they pulled out. Three Russian investigative reporters were killed while probing Wagner Group activities in the country.

The owner of the Wagner group is believed to be Yevgeny Prigozhin, a man very close to Putin. In line with EU sanctions, on October 29, 2020, the Monaco Government froze the Monaco-held funds of Prigozhin, announcing in the official Journal de Monaco: “Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin is a Russian businessman with close relationships, including financial ones, with a private military company, the Wagner Group. Mr. Prigozhin thus plays a role in the activities of the Wagner group in Libya and provides them with support, which endangers peace, stability and security in the country. In particular, the Wagner group is implicated in multiple and repeated violations of the arms embargo in Libya established under United Nations Security Council resolution 1970 (2011), including the delivery of arms as well that the deployment of mercenaries in Libya in support of the Libyan National Army. The Wagner group has taken part in numerous military operations against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord, and has helped undermine Libya’s stability and undermine the emergence of a peaceful process.”

Meanwhile, the number of French troops in Mali is being reduced to about 3,000 by the summer of 2022 from 5,000 in June 2021. A number of bases have already been turned over to Malian government forces, including the one at Timbuktu. Despite their best efforts with the help of the French Foreign Legion, the insurgency continues.

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FILE PHOTO: Yevgeny Prigozhin TASS