Ivan Maslov, the head of Wagner Group in Mali has been sanctioned by the USA citing the paramilitary group’s wrongful activities of using the African country as a channel for smuggling mines, drones, and other military equipment to Russia purchased from foreign networks for the so-called military operation in Ukraine. The mercenary group is seen as a threat by Western allies as it has entrenched its influence in the African continent and is actively involved in the assault against Ukraine

Figure1 Image Source: AP

The Wagner Group

The Wagner Group is a private Russian military force that is closely integrated with the Kremlin and has been used in war-torn regions of the world, especially the African continent. Apart from this, it is actively involved in Putin’s war on Ukraine, unleashing heinous crimes against humanity. 

Figure 2 Image Source: The New York Times

According to reports from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the origin of this organization can be traced to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is an illegal organization funded by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian businessman, who has close links to Vladimir Putin. Its obscurity from the legal structure helps Russia to subvert the atrocities committed by the Wagner group. 

The US government has sanctioned the organization since 2017 for its nefarious activities. The Wagner Group and its leader, Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, have been sanctioned by several authorities, including its support for the Russia-Ukraine war. In 2018, U.S. prosecutors accused Prigozhin of his alleged role in financing the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which the U.S. called a Russian “troll farm” that attempted to use digital campaigns to disrupt political and social dynamics in the U.S.

The Wagner group has conducted operations in the tumultuous regions of Africa thereby further impairing the weak states. Human rights groups have also raised concerns over the malicious ventures undertaken by Putin’s private military force. Early this year, the USA has designated the group as a “transnational criminal organization”

Wagner’s Role in Africa

Wagner group’s operations have been uncovered in Mali and Sudan where it has tried to uphold its interests. The autocratic regimes in these countries allow unlawful activities to function without any hindrance. Mali is being used as a conduit for supplying arms to Russia under the cover. Recently, the group has been accused by the USA of transferring surface-to-air missiles to Rapid Support Forces (RSF), one of the warring parties in the Sudanese civil war. The treasury department said in a statement that this action is going to worsen the situation in Sudan.

Figure 3 Image Source: Reuters

 The military group has made agreements in Mali, Central African Republic, Libya, and other countries to give security to the authoritarian governments, often instead of a chunk of the local mining of gold and other valuable resources. According to reports, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, went to  Mali last year to back the junta with security matters and to avail business gains in mining after French soldiers retreated.

The United States also inflicted visa restrictions on two Malian military commanders for their involvement in the 2022 massacre in which according to the United Nations,  Malian forces supported by foreign fighters murdered approximately 500 people in a village in central Mali. Authorities from France and other countries have claimed that the foreign fighters were from the Wagner mercenary group.

Anjali is pursuing Masters in International Relations and Area Studies from JNU. Her interest lies in Middle East and North Africa.

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