‘France Pisses Us Off’: Malians Hail Russian Advisers’ Arrival as Paris Quits Anti-Terror War
22:14 GMT 27.12.2021 (Updated: 11:35 GMT 23.11.2022)
France’s five-nation war across Africa’s Sahel region is as unpopular there as it is at home, where French President Emmanuel Macron faces slagging popularity just months away from elections in which he will seek another term.
Malians have welcomed the reported arrival of Russian advisers in the West African country, where France has continued to disengage from a nine-year War on Terror-style campaign against Muslim rebel groups. However, over a dozen Western nations have protested Moscow’s help.
"We just need to make sure that the government assumes its responsibility and says today that Mali is ready to sign with the devil for peace. The people need peace. The north of Mali and the center of Mali are now suffering from insecurity. And we welcome everyone, all those who can help us achieve peace," Kebab Diallo, a resident of the country’s capital of Bamako, told Africa News
France’s Operation Barkhane is winding down
in Africa’s Sahel, with the French Army handing over the last of its bases
in northern Mali to the Malian government earlier this month. The war, which has spanned five former French colonies, began in 2012 after a coup in the Malian capital
of Bamako created a national crisis in which Tuareg rebels took over nearly half the country and declared their own state of Azawagh.
However, while the war has devastated Mali and several other countries, it has failed to contain the threat from the Muslim rebel groups, which contain elements loyal to Al-Qaeda and Daesh* that have thrived in the vacuum created by the NATO-directed destruction of Libya in 2011.
In October, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga told RIA Novosti
that French forces have been secretly funneling support to terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda-aligned Ansar el-Din front and had no intention of winning the war.
“France pisses us off,” Fatoumata Doukara, another Bamako resident, told Africa News.
“It has been in our country for 10 years or more with no results. Our children are dying, our soldiers are dying every day in the north. I welcomed the arrival of the Russian forces. If they manage to put everything in order, it will make us happy,” she added.
Lassana Coulibaly, another Bamako resident, said the people “will welcome them with open arms, without shame really. Let the European forces go where they want. It was the people themselves who asked for the Russian forces to come. It is not the authorities in place, it is the people themselves."
Their complaints are as old as Barkhane, which has long been protested
by Malian antiwar group Yerewolo - Debout sur Les Remparts (The Worthy Sons - Standing on the Ramparts), which called large protests in June when Macron announced the end of Barkhane in reaction to the second coup in two years by Col. Assimi Goïta, who is now Mali’s interim president.
Less than half
of the 5,000 troops deployed in Barkhane are actually going home, though: most are shifting south, toward the tri-border area with Burkina Faso and Niger, to fight other terrorist groups there. However, the French forces are no less hated there, and a massive French military convoy bound for southern Mali from Cote D’Ivoire machine-gunned its way
through massive Burkinabe and Nigerian demonstrations last month.
NATO Protests Africans' Turn Toward Russia
On Thursday, France and 15 other NATO allies signed a joint statement
denouncing what they claim is Bamako’s contracting of “foreign mercenaries” in the form of the Wagner Group, a private security contracting corporation falsely stated as having connections to the Russian government. The US issued a separate protest
earlier this month.
Both Moscow and Bamako have denied
that either Russian troops are deployed in Mali or that very real discussions
with “a private Russian military company” earlier this year actually yielded a contract for their use.
"We don’t have any connection to that," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in September.
Pyotr Ilyichev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Organizations, told RIA Novosti on Monday
that the withdrawal of French troops from Mali has the potential to intensify terrorist activity, since neither the Sahel Five nations or Task Force Takuba have the strength to tackle the emerging threat.
"Under these circumstances, Mali, just like other countries of the Sahara and Sahel region, has the right to collaborate on tackling extremists with any partners,” Ilyichev said, adding that "attempts to interfere with the decision of the sovereign country through blatant blackmailing and threats are a clear manifestation of neocolonialism."
“We believe that the fight against international terrorism in Africa is a common task for all non-regional players. In this context, abstract arguments about the traditional spheres of influence of individual states look simply inappropriate,” Ilyichev added, noting that Russia and Mali have long-standing links and that Moscow would “continue to protect the legitimate interests of Bamako at the UN, as well as provide active assistance to the Malian partners in the military and military-technical spheres along existing inter-state lines.”
Paris has levied similar accusations against Russian military advisers before: in June, Macron canceled a security training deal
with the Central African Republic (CAR), another former French colony, claiming the government hadn’t done enough to get rid of claimed Russian influence in the country, including the claimed presence of Wagner Group mercenaries. Last week, the EU made the same decision
, citing alleged presence of Wagner Group mercenaries, which both Bangui and Moscow deny.
However, due to the French cancellation, Bangui soon requested substantially more Russian advisers, which helped the country’s military to turn the war around and make substantial gains
against rebel forces.