Country Risk

Probable attempted talks with jihadists following Russia-Mali military deal likely to create splits weakening operational capacity

10 July 2019

Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé reviews a guard of honour upon his arrival in Sevaré, central Mali, on 3 July 2019. Source: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé on 7 July wrapped up a five-day trip to central Mali, where hundreds have been killed in inter-ethnic violence, pledging to increase security. His visit follows the signing of a Mali-Russia military agreement on 25 June by the two countries' defence ministers.

  • Russia-France co-ordination problems are likely to impede effective intelligence sharing. In a deal similar to that agreed between Russia and the Central African Republic (CAR) two years ago, the accord initially provides for Russian military instructors to train Malian troops and unspecified "counter-terrorism assistance". However, unlike CAR, Mali is not constrained by an arms embargo, increasing the likelihood of further weapons proliferation and providing jihadists with a new target from which to acquire arms and materiel. Ambushes against foreign troops, leading to the capture of military vehicles, have been instrumental in the rise of suicide vehicle-borne attacks against UN and French bases, particularly in Gao and Timbuktu. France, the main counter-terrorism player, intends to draw down its Barkhane operation but - aware of its loss of influence to Russia in CAR - is unlikely to prematurely withdraw Barkhane as it did its CAR Sangaris military mission. Russia's arrival is likely to exacerbate co-ordination and command and control problems that have already beset the plethora of foreign forces in Mali, exposing security vacuums that will benefit jihadist groups. For example, a lack of co-ordination between diverse commands and control led to a failure to share intelligence that was a contributing factor in a suicide attack that destroyed the regional G5-Sahel counter-terrorism force headquarters in Sevaré in June 2018.
  • Mining contracts for Russian companies increase the cancellation risks for existing investors. Jihadist violence has incited inter-communal conflict in central Mali with hundreds of civilians killed by rival ethnic militias, particularly around Ségou and Mopti. The June 2019 renewal of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA's mandate was extended to cover central Mali, alongside Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé's pledge of 3,500 extra Malian troops, but this is unlikely to curb the violence that sparked mass protests and caused the Malian government's downfall in April.

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