At least 500 paramilitaries from the controversial private Russian Wagner Group arrived on Thursday in Bamako, Mali’s capital, local security sources confirmed to Anadolu Agency on Friday.
''We confirm the arrival of 500 Russian soldiers,'' the Malian sources told Anadolu Agency, asking not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
The soldiers will be deployed in 10 locations in the West African country, according to local media.
The reported arrival comes as the paramilitary group attracts greater controversy.
On Thursday, 15 European countries, including France, which is deploying its military in Mali as part of the fight against terrorism, announced in a statement that they had taken note of "the involvement the Russian Federation’s government in providing material support for Wagner group’s deployment in Mali" and called on "Russia to adopt responsible and constructive behavior in the region."
They condemned the deployment of mercenaries on Malian territory, warning that it could further deteriorate the security situation in West Africa.
The countries warned that the group’s involvement would "worsen the human rights situation in Mali" and threaten the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the country.
In 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed to 2,000 Wagner mercenaries fighting in nearby Libya in support of Khalifa Haftar, a warlord who has fought Libya’s legitimate government and undermined efforts for peace and unity in the country.
Wagner Group ‘confusing the game’
"It is certain that the Russian paramilitary group poses a lot of concerns, not for the Malians but more for the West, France, the European community and the United States because it is a new player that is confusing the game," Regis Hounkpe, the executive director of InterGlobe Conseils, a consulting firm specializing in strategic communication and geopolitical expertise, told Anadolu Agency.
The group is criticized due to Russia's relations with France and the US, he said, questioning if there would be as much controversy if it were a British group, for example.
"It is true that these mercenaries have a bad record in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. But Mali is a sovereign state and has the right to contract any action with any actor. Mali does not have to choose between the wishes of its European collaborators who are against the new actor. This country must assert itself," Hounkpe added.
On previous French anti-terrorist operations in Mali, he said: "France's record in Mali is very poor at the moment. The recently withdrawn French anti-terrorist force, Barkhane, did not have the desired effect. Mali is still balkanized and in a political and security crisis. On its borders the terrorist threat is still evident.”
It means the Malian military junta felt that it is preferable to engage in cooperation with a new actor, Wagner, he added.