Introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow
The damage the European empires have done to Africa, especially the British, French, and Italian, has always been a public accusation in Moscow, and the policy of the Russian tsars, the Soviet Union, and President Vladimir Putin.
It was at the Potsdam conference of the wartime allies in July 1945 that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin made a point of telling the US President Harry Truman, as well as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, that the Soviet Union wanted to take the trusteeship of Libya under a United Nations protectorate, and ensure thereby the protection of the Libyans from the return of Italian colonial rule. Churchill wanted the return of the Italians; Truman’s State Department wanted the same thing but not to appear publicly to betray Washington’s wartime promise that Libya – where the allied armies defeated both the Italian and German armies at immense cost in Libyan lives and property – would become independent.
Subsequent Soviet policy in Africa did not contest the US Air Force from turning Libya into a nuclear-armed base against the USSR. But on September 1, 1969, when Muammar al-Qaddafi removed the Libyan king, his government, and Wheelus Airbase, a Soviet naval force of seventy vessels, including the Moskva aircraft carrier, filled the sea between Crete and the Libyan coast, protecting Qaddafi from intervention by the US and the British.
Since the resumption of American, French and British intervention in Libya in 2011, and the murder of Qaddafi in October of that year, Putin has repeated in public his regret at the inaction of then-President Dmitry Medvedev to oppose both.
What then followed in Libya, Putin has also repeated, led to disastrous wars in the African states to the south of Libya, especially Mali, and the flood of African refugees through Libya to Europe.
The Anglo-American and European propaganda organs are now accusing the Kremlin of intervening militarily in Mali and other African states through the operations of the Wagner Group. This issue came up directly during Putin’s six-hour talks with President Emmanuel Macron in the Kremlin on Monday. It was openly discussed during the press conference which followed.
The war in Mali was not identified as a significant talking point in either Putin’s or Macron’s prepared statements for the press.
Instead, during the question-and-answer session, a French reporter asked Putin: “As for Mali, can you say that your government is not connected in any way with the mercenaries in Mali?” Putin replied: “First of all, regarding Mali. President Macron raised this issue many times, we discussed it with him, and President Macron is aware of our position on this matter. The Russian government, the Russian state have nothing to do with the companies that are working in Mali. As far as we know, the Malian leadership has no complaints about the commercial activities of these companies.”
“Following the logic that may be applied to NATO, the current member states and potential members, if Mali has opted to work with our companies, it has the right to do so. However, I would like to point out – I will talk about this with President Macron after this news conference – I would like to point out that the Russian state has nothing to do with this. It concerns the commercial interests of our companies, which coordinate their activities with the local authorities. We will take a closer look at this, but we have nothing to do with it. This is the first point.”
Macron did not comment.
Macron and Putin were asked again by a French reporter to address the Mali issue. “Mr Macron, could you also answer the question about PMC Wagner’s presence and whether Russia is involved in that in any way?”
Putin replied: “I have already covered this issue. I have already made it clear that the Russian state has nothing to do with this. I am saying this quite responsibly without any hidden agenda. Local authorities invite them at the state level, thank them for their work, and so on.”
Macron said: “As for the Wagner group, the President’s reply is very clear. France only recognises states and the fight against terrorism. Therefore, we make decisions on counterterrorism struggle as regards sovereign states and in close coordination with the region. In this case, we are consulting ECOWAS and the African Union.”
MALI AND ITS NEIGHBOURS
Russian bauxite, iron-ore and goldmining groups, Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal, and Alexei Mordashov’s Severstal Resources and Nordgold, are substantial investors in Guinea, Liberia, and Burkina Faso. The principal goldminers in Mali are Barrick Gold of Canada and Endeavour Mining of the UK.
THE WAR IN MALI
Source: France 24: https://alchetron.com/
The day after the Kremlin negotiations, a detailed report was published in the Moscow publication Vzglyad (“Viewpoint”) on the recent course of French operations in Mali, and the current involvement of the Wagner Group. For the quality of its analysis of strategic topics and its sources, Vzglyad may be interpreted as reflecting current Russian intelligence assessments.
This assessment of the Mali war, putting in context the Kremlin comments by Putin and Macron, was written by the regular Vzglyad reporter, Yevgeny Krutikov. He cites no source.
“How Russia humiliated France in Africa — Fighting in the desert has its own characteristics
By Yevgeny Krutikov
Over the past few years, West Africa has become a region where France has been rapidly losing its former influence. But there you can sometimes hear gratitude expressed to the citizens of Russia – and this makes Paris very nervous. Why does what is happening put France in an extremely uncomfortable position and how did Russia achieve this?
In addition to the situation around Ukraine, the situation in West Africa was also touched upon at the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron. What is happening there is perceived in Paris extremely painfully – and after all, Russian citizens also take part in it. A special situation has developed in Mali, where the new military leadership expelled the French ambassador after Paris began to be called an ‘illegitimate junta’ According to various sources, several hundred Russians arrived in Mali, presumably from private military companies.
Report by the Voice of America, dated February 1, 2022, on the expulsion of Anmbassador Joel Meyer. The protest sign says: “France Out!!!!”, “Mali is proud of its son”, “Thanks Colonel Assimi Goita”.
During their personal meeting, Vladimir Putin explained to Emmanuel Macron how the situation is with Russian participation in Mali. ‘As for Mali, Mr. President [of France] has repeatedly raised this issue, we have discussed it with him, and he knows our position. The Russian government, the Russian state has nothing to do with those companies that operate in Mali. Following the general logic in relation to [the policy of] NATO and the members of the alliance, if Mali makes such a choice to work with our companies, then it has the right to do so. The Russian state has nothing to do with this,’ Putin stressed once again.
Against this background, the Central African Republic (CAR) once again spoke about the positive role of Russian military instructors. Russia helped the CAR authorities to restore order in the country in a year, while the West could not do this for decades. This was stated by the CAR’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, Leon Dodon-Punagaza, RIA-Novosti has just reported. ‘With the French, Americans and others – how many years have we been friends, and what have they done? These military groups have not given the CAR peace for many years,’ the diplomat noted. He thanked Moscow for its help and stressed that the situation in the republic had been terrible.
From a military point of view, the situation in Mali is radically different from the CAR. In Central Africa, there was a tangle of internal conflicts. In Mali and a number of neighbouring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger), there is a direct invasion from outside the country by extremist jihadist groups associated with the former Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Most of the territory of Mali is a semi–desert (Sahel) and an ordinary sandy desert; tropical forests occupy only a small part of the country in the south. Accordingly, the population of Mali consists in an unequal proportion of two unrelated ethnic groups: Negroes (Mandika, Fulbe, Bambara and others) in the south and centre of the country, and Tuaregs in the northern desert. More than half of the population of Mali lives in the southern part of the country, while the Tuaregs (about 10% of the population) formally occupy a huge area of the Sahel and the desert.
The Tuaregs have long demanded independence, then autonomy, and finally it came to armed uprisings. But in recent years, the common external threat in the form of jihadists emanating from the territory of neighbouring, destroyed Libya has united the diverse ethnic groups of Mali. The Tuareg leaders officially abandoned their conflict with the black central government of Mali and asked for help against the jihadists. So now we are talking exclusively about the fight against terrorism in its classic jihadist twist. Additionally, the Tuaregs were extremely frightened by the behavior of the jihadists – the destruction of famous historical monuments in Timbuktu and public executions under Sharia law.
The fighting is conducted in semi-desert and desert. Jihadist detachments use classic raiding tactics, periodically retreating to the Libyan Sahara, where it is almost impossible to get them. In addition, jihadists regularly ambush on the only highway towards the Diré Cercle and further on to Timbuktu.
In such a situation, it is not worth waiting for a quick effect (‘the Russian forest ranger came and dispersed everyone’), as, for example, it was in the CAR. These expectations are inflated mainly due to the passive behavior of the French and the tiny contingents of other Europeans who joined them in the framework of operations Serval and Barkhane (for example, Latvia heroically sent four servicemen to Mali).
What happened and what didn’t work out for the French? At the first stage of Operation Serval in January 2013, the French actively used combat aircraft, bombed with Mirages and Rafales everything that moved in the northeast of Mali. Then they moved 500 paratroopers and almost the entire Malian army to Timbuktu. The jihadists could not withstand such pressure, and by February the French had occupied Timbuktu. And they built a base there, which is now occupied by the Russians.
This was an undoubted success, since the Malians could not cope with the jihadists on their own. So do not assume that the French have been inactive all this time.
Another thing is that the French faced unexpectedly strong resistance and decided to regroup. It turned out to be a revelation for them that the bearded people in turbans coming from Libya are well trained, have modern weapons, and are prepared to resist to the last.
During the “battle for the city of Kona” in mid-January 2013, the French lost a helicopter with its crew — it was shot down by jihadists. This made the French very tense. The result was a new operation ‘Barkhane’. According to the idea in Paris, it was supposed to surround the semi-desert with a network of military bases in Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal and Ivory Coast and strangle the jihadists, depriving them of supplies.
From that moment on, the behaviour of the French and the allies (50 soldiers were sent by another epic northern warrior, Estonia; several hundred people were sent by Germany) became exceptionally passive. The point was to use helicopters (British and German) to destroy the caravans of jihadists inside the desert and conduct targeted amphibious operations.
But it quickly became clear that the helicopters delivered to Mali were not adapted to operations in the desert and have unsatisfactory armour protection even from small arms fire from the ground. Helicopters were regularly inoperable; that made Operation Barkhane meaningless, since penetration deep into the desert became technically impossible.
At the slightest ground fire contact, the French hid in their bases. The commander of the operation, General Pierre de Villiers, posed questions to Paris about expanding the operation and changing tactics, but he did not receive support and resigned. The conflict between a representative of one of the oldest aristocratic French families and President Macron went so far that Macron dismissed de Villiers from the army altogether.
President Macron and General de Villiers take the Bastille Day salute in 2017.
In November 2019, the French tried to conduct a major operation at the junction of three borders: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. But in a sandstorm, the helicopters got lost; two of them collided with each other, and 13 French soldiers were killed. After that, Operation Barkhane was curtailed for all practical purposes.
The French began to openly accuse the FAMA – the army of Mali – and not themselves, of inaction. At the same time, the French did not so much as lift a finger to increase the combat capability of FAMA; instead, they treated the locals as auxiliary personnel. And this is despite the fact that the Malians had been suffering heavy losses in the ground battles which the French traditionally avoided. This irritated the Malians and created a negative emotional background around the French, since their behaviour was reminiscent of a colonial form of relationship, not an equal partnership.
With the Russians, it’s the opposite. Initially, it was announced that the Russians would not so much participate in the fighting as train the Malians.
The first instructors at the former French base in Timbuktu were engaged in personnel training. But at the same time, western estimates of the number of Russians vary greatly. Out of apprehension their number has been exaggerated to 500 people. More restrained estimates are claiming the number is between 200 and 300 people. It all started with four instructors. Their photos were actively published by the French media.
Source: France 24, broadcast January 11, 2022.
As for the purely military component, so far we are talking about establishing full control over the Bamako-Timbuktu highway. It was there that the first clash took place, in which, presumably, the Russians may have taken part. A convoy of the Malian army was ambushed near the town of Bandiagara in the centre of the country on the highway to Timbuktu. It is reported that an armoured personnel carrier could have been blown up by a land mine, after which a shootout ensued, and one of the Russians was allegedly wounded. In Mali, they talk about several killed among the jihadists, but what is absolutely certain is that there were no ‘prisoners’ among the Russians.
French sources insist that the new military leadership of Mali is deliberately conducting an operation to squeeze France out of the region and virtually coordinates this line with a number of neighbouring countries. After the demonstrative expulsion of the French ambassador from Bamako, this is what it looks like when viewed from Paris. Now the headquarters of the French military operation (if it can still be called that) has been moved to Ivory Coast, loyal to Paris, to the largest city of that country – Abidjan.
The French are bamboozled. On the one hand, the military operation in West Africa has actually failed. On the other hand, it’s somehow not comme il faut to admit it. To finally curtail Operation Barkhane and fly away is to lose face completely and, moreover, admit that the Russian tactics are turning out to be more successful.
To be completely honest, it is not yet clear how much more effective the Russians are in Mali than the ten-year-old floundering of the French in the dunes. It will be possible to give accurate estimates only by the end of this year, when it will be possible to form something combat-ready from FAMA, similar to what was done in the CAR. However, in any case, the situation in West Africa has changed dramatically but not in favour of France, and this with the help of literally several hundred Russians (the notorious “forest ranger’). If this trend continues, the prospects for saving face for Paris will become increasingly dim.”
NOTE: Marc Eichinger, a leading French expert on French corporate and military operations in West Africa, will shortly release his new book on the corruption which the Goita military takeover in Mali is aiming to stop.
The book is scheduled to be published on March 17; to pre-order, click.
Eichinger explains the significance of Wagner’s role in Mali. “In 2015 Eeben Barlow, the South African chief of Executive Outcomes, hired 90 former South African forces to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria. He had a three-month contract signed by President Jonathan Goodluck just before the Nigerian general election. The South Africans managed to reduce strongly the Boko Haram activities. The Czech arms dealer Excalibur had supplied their weapons including one T-72; the budget was small – below $8 million. They needed another 40 days of work to get rid of Boko Haram, but the contract was not renewed by Goodluck’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari. The Northern Barons of Nigeria are profiting from the unstable situation. “
“In Mali Wagner will be as efficient, but also more aggressive and more professional. You don’t need a great deal of equipment so long as you are mobile; that means you don’t stay inside your base forts. But the cost of maintenance of the vehicles and their supply logistics is expensive. A team of 300 men can do the job. But the jihadists will always come back because they smuggle cocaine and tobacco, run human traffic lines towards Europe; for centuries the trade in violence has been like this. Wagner will win if the Malians let them go after the jihadists without interruption or corruption.”
“In my book I report that Operation Barkhane has been costing an average $1 billion per year. That’s for killing one thousand at most of shepherds or jihadists a year. That’s $1 million per jihadist. Barkhane was a huge opportunity for everybody, starting in Paris, to make money out of the military budget, earning fees from lucrative contracts.”
“Wagner is much more cost effective. Their employees are paid $3,000 per month; that compares with the going rate in the western military companies of $350 per day. If you have to secure a mine or an oilfield Wagner will be cheaper, and as former Russian spetsnaz they will do a good job. In Mozambique, Wagner suffered heavy losses but they also showed that they engaged the enemy.”