The United States imposed sanctions on several top Malian officials this week, saying they facilitated activities of the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary unit that recently staged a brief mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Analysts say the sanctions are meant to send a message to the Malian government.
Mali’s military government Wednesday criticized the sanctions on high-ranking members of the army accused of facilitating Wagner Group activities in the country, as Mali continues its decade-long fight against Islamist militants.
A statement was read on state TV station ORTM by presenter Mah Camara, and later posted to the station’s Facebook page.
“These new measures, contrary to international law, which we strongly condemn, add to the long list of aggressive measures, acts of intimidation, blackmail and hostile campaigns against Mali,” the statement said in French.
The statement also accused the United States of having “actively contributed to the spread of terrorism and weapons in the Sahel.”
On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the travel and financial sanctions against Mali’s minister of defense, Colonel Sadio Camara, as well as Colonel Alou Boi Diarra, Mali’s chief of staff of the air force, and Colonel Adama Bagayoko, the Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff.
The statement says the officers were sanctioned for “facilitating the deployment and expansion” of the Wagner Group’s activities in Mali.
Mali has been under military rule since a 2020 coup, and Wagner has been present in the country since 2021, assisting the junta.
The U.S. sanctioned the head of Wagner in Mali in May, after the United Nations released a report on a 2022 massacre in Moura, Mali, allegedly committed by the Malian army working with Wagner soldiers.
Daniel Eizenga, a researcher at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, spoke via a messaging application about the sanctions. He said the sanctions will add a layer of scrutiny for any U.S. person or anyone engaged with the U.S. financial system wishing to do business in Mali or with the Malian government, but that the sanctions are also largely symbolic.
“This is really about recognition,” Eizenga said. “The United States government is making a decision in these sanctions to say that we do not recognize these authorities as a legitimate government. In fact, we are sanctioning them, and refusing to do business with them, because they have acted in a way that is contrary to the interests of Malian citizens.”
The junta has widespread support in Bamako and in much of southern Mali but several outspoken critics of the government have been arrested. Additionally, reporting on the army’s alleged participation in massacres and extrajudicial killings in the center and north of the country has been censored.
The military government took France 24 and Radio France International off the air in Mali after they reported on another massacre, this one around the Diabaly area of central Mali, in 2022.
Authorities also asked the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Mali, MINUSMA, to leave the country following a report this past May from the U.N. human rights office on the Moura incident.
Kalilou Sidibe, political analyst and professor of political science and international relations in Bamako, told VOA that he considers the Malian government response “measured” compared to past actions toward France.
During a months-long diplomatic falling out with France, the Malian government expelled the French ambassador, asked French troops to leave the country, and accused France of spying.
Sidibe said that the U.S. remains one of Mali’s largest development partners, and he believes relations between the two countries, and popular views on the U.S. in Mali, are not likely to worsen significant because of the sanctions.
Malian public opinion is not going to change suddenly, he said, because these sanctions don’t target the population directly, they target certain leaders.
Malian leaders, including interim President Assimi Goita, went to St. Petersburg, Russia, this week for an African leaders’ summit.
Mali has received several shipments of weapons and equipment from Russia since the junta took over in 2020.