France's exit from Mali with the withdrawal of the anti-jihadist operation Barkhane opened a new chapter in the Malian context. The security and support vacuum for the Bamako government that remained at that time had to be filled by someone, and that is where Moscow came in, specifically through the Wagner Group. This private paramilitary group has gained prominence in Mali since the abandonment of the region by French troops, taking advantage of Mali's preoccupation with the terrorist threat to position itself as the country's main defence against radical groups.
It is this rapprochement by Wagner towards Bamako that has prompted the UK's decision to withdraw its forces from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. The UK Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, has announced that the 300 troops who have been in Mali since 2020 "will leave earlier than planned". However, for the moment, he has preferred not to give specific dates and has criticised the Russian paramilitary group, describing it as "a group of murderous thugs who violate human rights", which he also points to as an actor that is "counterproductive to lasting stability and security in the region".
The UK's exit from Mali does not detract from the fact that the country led by Rishi Sunak "remains committed to Mali and the Sahel region". Moreover, Heappey announced that he will meet with European and West African officials in Ghana next week 'to coordinate a response to the regional instability'. What is clear in London is that they will not make an effort to maintain peace in a country that allies itself with groups like Wagner, despite the fact that Mali justifies its aid as the only option to confront the terrorist groups that agitate the country.
Bamako's association with Wagner has not only provoked the UK's exit, but has also led to increased tension with its regional allies after allowing Russian mercenaries to be deployed on Malian territory. For its part, France withdrew its forces due to disagreements with the military junta that has run the country since the 2020 coup d'état. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that Paris will have the French strategy in Africa ready in six months, which underwent a major change with the end of the Barkhane operation after nine years in Mali.
It should be recalled that France once had 5,500 soldiers in the region, a number that has now been reduced to just over half, 3,000. These are distributed between Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, although this arrangement could change in the coming months with the new strategy that Macron's government is preparing. What does not seem likely to change positively is their situation in Mali since, as the UK's move now demonstrates, concern in the West over the presence of the Wagner Group prevents any support for a government that allies itself with Russian mercenaries with a significant record of human rights violations.