Russian mercenaries are said to be willing to forge paperwork to use Mali as a transit point for Ukrainian war materials.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary army has attempted to cover up efforts to obtain international military equipment for use in the war in Ukraine and is attempting to transport such supplies through Mali, the US State Department said.
The private mercenaries, fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, are willing to use false papers to transport military equipment through Mali, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at a news conference Monday.
“We have learned that Wagner wants to push material gains to support the Russian war through Mali and is willing to use false papers for these transactions,” Miller said.
“In fact, there is evidence that Wagner has attempted to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali as a third party,” he said.
“We have not seen any indication to date that these acquisitions have been completed or executed, but we are closely monitoring the situation.”
Miller added that the US has imposed sanctions on people and entities “across multiple continents” found to be “supporting Wagner’s military operations,” and Washington would soon have more to say about the attempt to ship equipment through Mali.
Earlier this month, the French parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Union to formally declare Wagner’s mercenaries a “terror group”, a move that followed the US’s declaration of Wagner as a “transnational criminal organization” in January.
Wagner and his entrepreneur owner Yevgeny Prigozhin have been repeatedly sanctioned by the US and the EU for human rights violations in Africa and for participating in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Western countries have also expressed concern about the activities of Wagner mercenaries in Mali.
Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Office announced that an investigative report concluded there was “strong evidence” that more than 500 people in Mali were killed by Malian troops and foreign military personnel – believed to be Wagner’s – during an operation in March 2022 which took place over five days in the village of Moura in the central Mopti region of the country. Most of the dead were executed, the UN said.
“Witnesses reported seeing ‘armed white men’ speaking an unknown language operating alongside Malian forces and appearing to occasionally oversee operations,” the UN said in a statement.
“According to witnesses, Malian troops were rotated in and out of Moura on a daily basis, but foreign personnel remained throughout the operation,” the UN said.
At least 58 women and girls were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence during the operation, according to the UN.
“These are extremely disturbing findings,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in the statement.
“Supplied executions, rape and torture during armed conflict are war crimes and, depending on the circumstances, may amount to crimes against humanity,” Turk said.
The military rulers of Mali and Russia have previously maintained that Wagner personnel in Mali are not mercenaries, but trainers aiding local troops with military equipment purchased from Russia.