The United States on Thursday sanctioned the leader of the Russian Wagner paramilitary group in Mali, citing what it said were indications that the Kremlin is trying to use the West African nation as a transit station for arms shipments to Russian forces in Ukraine.
Russia uses Mali as a transit station for arms shipments
The Treasury Department sanctions target local Wagner Group official Ivan Maslov and refer to unspecified indications that his employees were working to buy mines, drones and other weapons systems from foreign suppliers for delivery to Russian fighters in Ukraine.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller addressed those American suspicions earlier this week.
“We have seen no indication at this time that these purchases have been completed or executed, but we are monitoring the situation closely,” Miller said.
Headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wagner Group is a private military contractor whose paramilitary forces are fighting for Russia in Ukraine and are also expanding Russian influence in developing countries in the southern hemisphere.
The Wagner Group in Africa
In Africa, the Wagner Group has brokered deals in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and elsewhere, providing security to often autocratic national leaders, often in exchange for a share of local gold and other resource holdings, APnews writes.
Regional experts and others accuse the Kremlin of using its operations in Mali and other parts of Africa as a funding source and logistical hub for its 15-month-long invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies any wrongdoing.
The United States has sanctioned the Wagner Group and its leaders over Russia’s attack on Ukraine and rights violations since at least 2017.
The United States also imposed visa restrictions on two Mali military commanders on Thursday. The sanctions came in connection with a 2022 massacre in which Malian forces backed by foreign fighters killed at least 500 people in a village in central Mali, according to the UN. France and other countries declared that the foreign fighters were Wagner mercenaries.
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