US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned Mali’s military rulers not to accept Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, saying a deal would divert needed funds and further destabilize the African country.
Two days after the European Union joined the United States in imposing sanctions on the Wagner Group, Blinken voiced disappointment that Mali has rejected an offer of additional UN peacekeepers and is instead looking to the private paramilitary unit.
“Wagner forces — which are known for their destabilizing activities and human rights abuses — will not bring peace to Mali, but rather will destabilize the country further,” Blinken said in a statement.
“We urge the transitional government in Mali not to divert scarce budgetary resources away from the Malian Armed Forces’ fight against terrorism,” he said.
“The wealth of the country — including mining concessions — should benefit the Malian people, and not be mortgaged to unaccountable foreign forces with a record of abusing local populations and undermining host nations’ control over their own territory.”
Blinken issued a similar warning about Wagner’s involvement in Mali during a visit last month to Senegal.
His latest statement offered new details, including that the United States understands that the deal under discussion with the Wagner Group would cost $10 million a month to Mali.
The troubled West African nation has looked to the Wagner Group as former colonial power France winds down an eight-year military involvement that aimed to defeat jihadist insurgents.
French President Emmanuel Macron is also likely to raise concerns about a Wagner deployment when he visits Mali next week and meets for the first time with Colonel Assimi Goita, who took office in June after the country’s second coup in less than a year.
The Wagner Group has caused controversy through its involvement in Syria, Libya, and especially the Central African Republic.
UN experts in an October report accused the private force of violent harassment, intimidation and sexual abuse as it deployed to assist the Central African Republic’s army.
Russia denies any government link with the Wagner Group but the unit is associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to President Vladimir Putin who has been hit by separate sanctions over meddling in the 2016 US election.
Russia denounced the EU sanctions as “Western hysteria” and accused former colonial powers of “jealousy” as African and Middle Eastern nations turn to new partners.