Over the last three months, hundreds of Russian mercenaries have landed in the West African nation of Mali, The Washington Post reported. The group, known as Wagner –– after the composer Richard Wagner –– don army fatigues with no country's flag, and guard the presidential palace, but foreign affairs experts say the reason they're there might have more to do with pushing Vladimir Putin's agenda amid the deadly war in Ukraine than protecting the people of Mali.
"We think they're here to clean up the mess," Diamano Dolo, a 41-year-old merchant told The Post. Dolo's Wagner gear sells quickly, the outlet says.
Wagner is one group targeted by US sanctions, and has been accused of war crimes. The group of mercenaries arrived in Mali in 2020 after a coup d'etat isolated the country from its democratic partners. Their arrival is furthering the Kremlin's agenda worldwide while Russia invades Ukraine, and distances itself from the West, researchers said.
Since 2016, Russian mercenaries increased their presence in four countries to 28 –– 18 of which are African –– according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Wagner comes in, further destabilizes the country, ravages the mineral resources and makes as much money as they can before they choose to leave," US Navy Rear Admiral Milton Sands, who leads the Special Operations Command Africa, told The Washington Post.
"The country is left poorer, weaker, and less secure. Every time."