In the event that those reports turn out to be true and such a deal is ultimately reached, then it should be internationally praised instead of condemned.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly told a parliamentary commission last week that “If the Malian authorities entered into a contract with Wagner, it would be extremely worrying and contradictory, incoherent with everything that we have done for years and we intend to do to support the countries of the Sahel region.” She shared her concerns in response to reports that the shadowy mercenary group that’s allegedly connected to Russia (though with whom the Kremlin denies any relationship) might soon deploy to the West African nation of Mali.
France recently changed the nature of its years-long military mission there partially in response to its latest coup so Paris fears that Moscow might use this supposed proxy force to further encroach on its “sphere of influence” in what the former imperial master refers to as “Françafrique”. Parly’s worries don’t make any sense though, at least in terms of how she articulated them. In the event that Wagner does indeed deploy to Mali, it would actually augment what France had previously done for that host country’s anti-terrorist capabilities. In fact, it was France’s drawdown of its mission there which prompted concerns about a new rise in terrorism.
Mali has the sovereign right to cooperate with whichever partners it deems fit for ensuring its national security interests, including non-state actors like Wager. France abandoned its ally earlier this year on the pretext that its internal political changes were incompatible with so-called “democratic values”, but in reality, Paris had already planned to make such a move for quite a while already after finally realizing how difficult it would be to fully eradicate terrorism there on its own. In fact, some skeptics also speculated that France never sincerely had such intentions in the first place but was exploiting its military presence there in order to entrench its influence.
Be that as it may, Mali objectively suffers from very pressing terrorist threats. Al Qaeda and the self-described “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” (ISGS) have carried out plenty of attacks there, though France recently claimed to have assassinated the latter’s leader. Even so, Mali has yet to develop the domestic military capabilities for thwarting such threats on its own, hence why it still requires foreign support. France refuses to provide it, and what it previously extended wasn’t sufficient as proven by its nearly decade-long failure to win its “War on Terror” there, hence the reported interest that Mali might have in recruiting Wagner instead.
In the event that those reports turn out to be true and such a deal is ultimately reached, then it should be internationally praised instead of condemned. France’s military abandonment of Mali, regardless of the pretext it invoked at the time and irrespective of how sincere it was, worsened its overall security situation. It created a void that would inevitably have to be filled by some other force so long as the acting Malian authorities refuse to enact the unilateral political concessions demanded of them by France for the possible return of its former security support.
The state of affairs is such that those same authorities refuse to budge in the face of those demands, while France remains insistent that it won’t ever militarily support Mali to the same extent as it previously did. The outcome is that this West African nation is in dire need of a replacement partner, ergo the possibility of recruiting Wagner to fill this void, without which its mild anti-terrorist successes of the past would almost certainly be reversed in the coming future. That worst-case scenario is what would really be “extremely worrying and contradictory, incoherent with everything that [France] has done for years” in Mali.
That is, of course, as long as Parly was telling the truth about France’s stance. She might not be entirely sincere though since this leading military official should know better than anyone else in her country just how badly Mali needs to fill the security void that France abruptly created there. For this reason, it can be concluded that her statement is nothing more than fearmongering directed at the international audience for the purpose of putting pressure on Mali and Wagner’s alleged Russian partner in the event that those two clinch a deal in the coming future. After all, Parly knows very well that such a deal would enhance Mali’s security, not reverse it.
Her fearmongering can therefore be interpreted as a sign of just how much France is failing to curtail Russia’s strategic gains in “Françafrique” over the past few years. The Western European Great Power is becoming desperate to stop its Eurasian rival after the latter brilliantly took advantage of the former’s exploitation of its partners to proverbially “poach” them from right under Paris’ nose. President Putin is a judoka so it strategically makes sense that he’d apply this martial art to the geopolitical realm. If France knew what was good for it, then it would consider cooperating with Russia in “Françafrique” instead of competing with it.