Battle Over Mali (II)

In Berlin the debate over the future of the Mali mission escalates. The mission is considered a failure, however Moscow’s growing influence in Bamako should be weakened.

BAMAKO/BERLIN (Own report) – In Berlin, the debate about a possible Bundeswehr withdrawal from Mali is escalating. Alongside the dispute about German troop transports and an apparently unauthorized use of a military camp by a private, service contractor engaged by the Bundeswehr, the conflict is mainly focused on Mali’s growing military cooperation with Russia. In addition to the presence of a growing number of Russian soldiers and private military contractors, Moscow is also increasing its arms deliveries to Bamako. The West’s efforts to repel Russia’s influence in Mali has long since included the UN’s MINUSMA operation, which the western powers seek to have investigate the suspected massacre of civilians. Massacres, such as these, have been carried out for years. They remained unsolved, as long as the EU was in charge of training Malian soldiers. The West’s attempts to instrumentalize human rights, to fight Russian influence in Mali, is leading to a conflict over the new MINUSMA mandate. In Berlin, demands for withdrawal are growing to the same degree as the opposite demands not abandon Mali to Russia.

Cooperation with Moscow

The main issue in the conflict between Mali and Germany or the western countries, is the continuously growing cooperation between the Malian government and Moscow. Since late 2021, Russian military instructors as well as private military contractors have been on the ground in Mali, in support of the Malian armed forces in their battle against jihadis in the Sahel. In the meantime, Malian troops are also being furnished combat equipment from Russia. Already in March, Moscow had delivered some helicopters and radar equipment, among other things. Recently more helicopters as well as several Aero L-39 and Suchoi S-25 jet fighters followed. The day after the weapons were delivered, President Assimi Goita praised the quality of the “partnership” with Russia, who “respects Mali’s sovereignty” [1] – a dig at the cooperation with the European countries, marked by the former colonial powers’ recurring unauthorized operations on Malian territory. ( reported.[2]) With the expansion of cooperation with Moscow, Bamako is fulfilling a strong sentiment within the population – which, since the failure of the missions of the European powers – has been calling for their rapid termination and in favor of expanding cooperation with Russia instead.[3]

Instrumentalization of Human Rights

The UN’s MINUSMA operation is being drawn into the dispute. This is, on the one hand, due to the fact that the western countries generally exert an enormous influence on the operation, and on the other, to the fact that they are deliberately seeking to use MINUSMA to torpedo Mali’s cooperation with Russia. One example is provided by a suspected massacre at the end of March in the village of Moura, in central Mali. According to information from the Malian military, 203 terrorists had been killed in a battle with the military. Human rights organizations, on the other hand, speak of a massacre, wherein around 300 civilians had been murdered – at the hands of both the Malian military accompanied by Russian mercenaries.[4] Massacres by Mali’s military have repeatedly been proven over the past few years, but they have always remained without consequences, as long as the Malian troops were being trained by the EU’s EUTM-Mali contingents. ( reported.[5]) However, in the case of Moura, demands are being raised in the West for the suspected massacre to be investigated by MINUSMA, officially. The obvious attempt by the West this time to instrumentalize the case, to delegitimize Mali’s military cooperation with Russia, was immediately blocked by Bamako.[6]

Dispute over MINUSMA

Nevertheless, it continues to affect the relationship between MINUSMA and Mali’s government. One indication is that when MINUSMA’s new mandate was passed, the issue of human rights had been given more importance than in the previous year’s mandate. In light of the West’s obvious intentions of instrumentalizing the previously ignored massacres to the detriment of the Malian government and its cooperation with Russia, has resulted in Moscow and Beijing only abstaining during the vote approving the new mandate. The new mandate has also sparked protests in Bamako. When it was approved, Mali’s government announced that it notes “with great regret” that some of its objections to the document were not taken into account. To safeguard “Mali’s sovereignty,” it is not prepared to guarantee MINUSMA freedom of movement during the investigation of possible human rights violations; on the contrary, the explicit consent of Mali’s government will be required. After all, MINUSMA’s function is to provide assistance to Bamako’s government, not replace it.[7]

Russian Troops as Neighbors

The conflict over Malian-Russian military cooperation is currently escalating. France’s military missions in Mali have been terminated – the Task Force Takuba, primarily organized by Paris since June 30, and France’s Opération Barkhane, since Monday of last week (August 15). At some of the bases the French military had been using, soldiers and employees of Russian private military contractors are now accommodated, such as in Timbuktu. Last week, the Bundeswehr’s operations command wrote a report to both the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees of the Bundestag that immediately after the French troops’ departure from their bases at the Gao airport – i.e., in the immediate vicinity of Camp Castor, where the Bundeswehr is stationed – “20 – 30 persons in military uniforms” were spotted, who could not be identified as Malian military forces; it can be assumed that they are Russian soldiers.[8] If the Bundeswehr already has a problem with their physical proximity, it would become really difficult, should the Russian military assume control functions at the airport, which would mean they would have the possibility to influence the Bundeswehr’s flight movements.

Two Factions

This is why some in Berlin are proposing the Bundeswehr’s withdrawal – not least of all, because the Mali mission has not achieved any success and has long been considered a failure, comparable to Afghanistan.[9] There are also those opposing, not least in the foreign ministry, where it is reasoned that the evacuation of the Bundeswehr runs counter to Berlin’s intention to broaden Germany’s influence on the African continent, and it would be counterproductive to the government’s plans to renew its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.[10] On the other hand, it is often pointed out that, with France’s withdrawal, Germany is the last western country with such a strong military presence in Mali – nearly 1,400 Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed there – and bringing the German troops home, would mean that there would no longer be a counterbalance to Russia and its growing political and military influence. That West African country should “not be abandoned to Russia,” is a repeated phrase.[11] In Berlin, the dispute over the future of the Mali mission is continuing.


[1] Mali-Russie : Assimi Goïta et Vladimir Poutine ont échangé par téléphone. 11.08.2022.

[2] See also Battle Over Mali (I).

[3] Mohamed Kenouvi: « Yerewolo debout sur les remparts » : de l’ombre aux premiers rôles. 29.07.2022.

[4] Benjamin Roger: Mali : l’armée et Wagner accusés d’avoir commis un « massacre » à Moura. 04.04.2022.

[5] See also The Human Rights Teachers and Ethnic Massacres in the Sahel.

[6] Benjamin Roger, Fatoumata Diallo: Mali : pourquoi la Minusma ne peut toujours pas enquêter à Moura. 11.04.2022.

[7] Thomas Wiegold: Blick auf Mali: Neue (alte) Hubschrauber, neues UN-Mandat, neue alte Probleme. 04.07.2022.

[8] Bundeswehr entdeckt offenbar russische Einsatzkräfte auf Flughafen in Mali. 16.08.2022.

[9] See also Wie in Afghanistan and Wie in Afghanistan (II).

[10] Peter Carstens, Johannes Leithäuser: Das Ende der Blockade. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.08.2022.

[11] See also „Nicht Russland überlassen“.