The Russians Are Coming. Even in Africa, Moscow Beats a Path

For those countries who don’t think they have a good deal from the EU, their regimes might well consider working more closely with the Russians.

And the cheers from the crowds seeing off the expelled French ambassador must be seen for what Europeans are.

The chicken or the egg? Did the Mali military junta’s decision to bring in Russian military contractors create the inertia for Emmanuel Macron to reduce his own troops’ presence there and initiate EU sanctions – or did his earlier decision to reduce troop numbers push the regime to take the measure to bring in around 400 Wagner mercenaries to keep it in power?

Regional buffs might mull this at length, but in many ways it doesn’t matter. What is important is that Macron’s childish reaction to the Russians coming shows the world so much about him and the French and their outdated and unrealistic views about themselves. The apparent lack of gratitude for being the big brother in Mali with originally 5000 troops and supporting the regime is the real issue. For the junta to turn to Russia, it was showing not only a lack of gratitude but also a lack of respect. It was, in a nutshell, saying ‘we can’t take Paris seriously’ and even in the best scenario, can’t imagine the French helping the generals stay in power if the brown stuff hits the propellers.

The reality is that the regime saw through the flawed narrative and could see why Macron had the troops there in the first place. On paper, it was all about fighting terrorism as Mali is at a crossroads of Islamic terrorism to plague the Sahel and terror groups there could take control. What this means for Macron is simply huge migrant flows to France which is just another headache for him battling to take a second term as serving President and aiming at lapping up the far-right votes with his stand on nailing immigration. And if that wasn’t bad enough, France has huge investments in Mali as French multinationals operate there, staffed by French expats who need protecting in the event of another attempted coup.

The tenuous link which kept Macron happy and kept the troop numbers high was the promise recently by the generals in Bamako of elections which would usher in a civilian government, but when the junta announced that these would be rescheduled to a new date in five years time, Macron’s patience waned. How much longer could he juggle the awkward scenario that he was, in effect, propping up a military regime which didn’t even have the decency to tug its forelock and show reverence to France as the only world power which mattered?

Last year in October, he announced that France would reduce its numbers in Mali starting with its presence in Timbuktu. We can assume that the regime decided that this was the time to turn to the Russians for help to fill the void.

What the Mali regime probably didn’t count on though was the reaction from Macron. Within days, literally, of the news emerging of the Russian presence Macron had not only raised a flag signaling his anger and disappointment with the junta but also managed to stir up similar discontent in Brussels which wasted no time in slapping sanctions on Mali.

Red in tooth and claw

The move though makes the EU look weak and France even weaker. So, when France can’t sustain the respect from former colonies in Africa who are required to play a certain role to keep the French happy then the Elysee turns to the EU to stick the knife in the back? And what does this say about the European Union as a whole? Ready and willing to keep the French dream alive in Africa and even happier for its own so-called foreign policy to be hijacked by a French President red in tooth and claw from a ruse based on revenge and score settling?

The signal to the whole of Africa is far worse though. As we are witnessing in the Middle East with Gulf Arab countries welcoming Syria’s Assad back into their pack following Russia’s intervention, the Mali move will be watched keenly by a number of failed francophone states in Africa. Either accept full hegemony and all that it entails and more or less stay a colony – and don’t seek any geo military support from anyone else – or face the petulant wrath of the EU and France in one almighty blow which will more or less push you in the arms of the Russians anyway.

For those countries who don’t think they have a good deal from France and the EU anyway, their regimes might well consider working more closely with the Russians in either case as Wagner mercenaries will at least go the extra length in keeping a junta in power with no conditions or silly EU human rights handbook.

What Macron has done is signal to African countries and to Russia itself that there is rich pickings for Putin there as all he has to do to expand his empire is send in the Wagner boys and clean up. With one swift move, armies of EU countries scarper once they even hear the word ‘Wagner’ and any remnants of trade with the EU is wiped clean. The clean slate is the perfect basis for Moscow to step in with its partners China, Iran and others to offer a new deal – to be part of a new bloc which sticks two fingers up to western sanctions and backs up the security component with real soldiers prepared to do real fighting. The talks recently between Nicaragua and Iran where the latter proposed a new trade bloc made up of countries sanctioned by the US is a glimpse of the future, which may well include African countries like Mali who now stand tall as the Russian model for others to consider replicating.

The recent bizarre meeting in Paris between Macron and Ursual Von Der Leyen, the European Commission president where both harp on about the need for a new defence strategy for EU countries (probably within NATO) was a desperate move by both the French President and his EU concubine. Macron was clinging on to an informal arrangement in Mali where other EU countries as well as the UK show support to his disingenuous stand against Islamic terrorism in the Sahel. But he is clearly afraid that countries like Germany, which has 800 troops there will be asking themselves just how far this farcical situation can sustain itself all in the name of keeping the Elysee fantasy alive of still being the only relevant power in francophone Africa. After all, if the EU has imposed sanctions and France is pulling out its own troops, then why should others keep theirs there? Mali now knows that the blurred lines of diplo talk with Macron’s people who might have suggested that France would help keep the junta in power have now been made clearer. The UN mission there now can only be there to keep Islamic fighters at bay but not to keep a junta in power. If others follow Macron, then isn’t this a clear sign that western powers are more interested in their own geopolitical goals and hegemony over fighting terrorism? Just look how the Europeans run like chickens when the Russians turn up. And the cheers from the crowds seeing off the expelled French ambassador must be seen for what they are. A landmark between the West and Russia, just as the current talks are between EU leaders and Putin. The times really are a-changin’.

By Martin Jay
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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