In a significant move, the United States has levied sanctions against Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov, the leader of Russia’s Wagner private military group operating in Mali.
The group is believed to be utilizing Mali as a conduit for supplying arms in support of Moscow’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
According to the US Treasury, Maslov has been actively collaborating with Malian authorities to expand Wagner’s presence not only in Mali but also across Africa.
The powerful paramilitary organization, under the control of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a prominent figure close to President Vladimir Putin, entered Mali last year to assist the ruling junta in maintaining security and exploring mining prospects after the withdrawal of French troops.
Highlighting concerns over Wagner’s activities, the Treasury released a statement asserting that the group might be attempting to obfuscate its efforts to acquire military equipment for deployment in Ukraine, employing Mali and other countries where it has established a foothold.
It further suggested that Wagner might be utilizing false documentation to conceal the acquisition and transit of mines, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems, and counterbattery systems destined for use in Ukraine.
The Treasury characterized Mali as a pivotal center for Russian expansion within the region.
Commenting on the situation, the Treasury stated, “The Wagner Group’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is likely supporting [RSF’s] Hemedti with the expectation of a Sudanese victory that would enhance his influence at the expense of his domestic rivals.”
As the head of Wagner in Mali, Maslov is said to be responsible for facilitating meetings between Prigozhin and government officials from various African nations, as revealed by the Treasury.
Notably, the Wagner group has faced allegations of involvement in a mass killing perpetrated by Malian troops, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of individuals last year.
While a recent United Nations report did not explicitly mention Wagner, it did confirm the participation of foreign fighters in the execution of at least 500 people during an anti-jihadist operation in Mali’s Moura region in March 2022.
However, an expert group within the UN previously implicated Wagner in the incident, expressing concerns over the increasing delegation of traditional military functions to the group.
Concurrently, the State Department announced the blacklisting of two Malian military officials, Colonel Moustaph Sangare and Major Lassine Togola, citing their responsibility for the Moura killings.