Through the presence of the Wagner group and the gradual influence of Iran, both countries aim to expand their influence in the region and acquire new allies

Iran and Russia gain strength in Mali

photo_camera PHOTO/French Army via AP - This undated file photo released by the French army shows three Russian mercenaries, right, in northern Mali

A month after French troops officially left Mali, the country continues to prepare for the new phase of power transition in a hostile climate, threatened by attacks from jihadist groups.

Taking advantage of the power and security vacuum left by French troops, Russia and its paramilitary group Wagner continue to gradually fill the gaps left by the West's withdrawal. Indeed, the continuing threats to Mali, as well as the advance of terrorism in the Sahel region, provide an opportunity for Moscow to show itself as the African country's security provider and supporter and thus expand its influence.

ataque-yihadista-mali

In this way, Russia is establishing itself as one of the Bamako government's main partners, something that also benefits the country itself, as Russia has pledged to provide "security, stability and unity" in exchange for Moscow allowing its companies to prospect for minerals and gold.

However, Russia and its military presence is not the only country that has tried to establish itself in Mali. Iran, like Russia, is also reportedly interested in trying to influence the country, as well as gaining the support of local allies by helping to consolidate the national government.

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Already a year ago, before the departure of the French troops, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's International Organisations Department, Pyotr Ilichov, stated that "Russia and Mali have a long-standing friendly relationship that goes back to the Soviet Union period (...). We will continue to defend Bamako's interests within the framework of the United Nations," he said, noting that "through state channels we will provide active assistance to the Malian side in the military sphere" since the African country "is key to enhancing security in the Sahel".

The recent visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Mali confirms this. Tehran, along the same lines as Moscow, is trying to foster cooperation with the country in an attempt to curb jihadist groups and prevent the country from falling into chaos due to both internal conflicts and external threats, in exchange for Bamako also allowing Tehran to take advantage of its abundant uranium and gold resources.

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In addition, analysts suggest that Russia and Iran are working together to replace Western influence in the country by seeking to provide economic support and food supplies, such as wheat along with oil products and fertilisers, as well as security cooperation and the rehabilitation of the Malian army.

If the Malian army is recovered and strengthened, thanks to Iranian and Russian assistance, both Tehran and Moscow will be well placed to become strategic allies in the region, a success that would surpass France's role in the region but would jeopardise the influence that the West has tried to maintain in the region through anti-terrorist aid. 

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In recent months, the Malian army has received modern surveillance radars, helicopters, military fighters, drones and more Russian trainers from Russia, as well as an increased presence of the Wagner group in areas previously managed by French troops.

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