Russia and the coup d'état in Mali

Malian military commanders who led the uprising were being trained in Moscow by the Russian Armed Forces
Colonel Assimi Goita, centre, who has declared himself leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, is accompanied by group member Malick Diaw, left, as they meet with a high-level delegation from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, at the Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali, on Saturday 22 August 2020

PHOTO/AP  -   Colonel Assimi Goita, centre, who has declared himself leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, is accompanied by group member Malick Diaw, left, as they meet with a high-level delegation from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, at the Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali, on Saturday 22 August 2020

Army leaders who led the coup d'état in Mali had been in Russia since January 2020 as part of a training programme arranged by the Russian Armed Forces, as pointed out by Malian military sources, according to the local media aBamako.com

These military leaders of the African country returned a few days before overthrowing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, after the aforementioned military training arranged on Russian territory. 

On Tuesday the rebels took control of Mali's biggest military base in Kati, near the capital, Bamako, before seizing the official residence of the former president of the nation, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and forcing him to resign.

The current military junta established to temporarily govern national affairs is presided over by Colonel Assimi Goita, former head of Mali's special forces and a highly respected personality. However, the coup d'état was engineered by Malick Diaw and Sadio Camara, two army colonels who hold high-level positions at Kati's own military base. Malick Diaw, the deputy commander of Kati's base, was the material organiser of the coup, while Sadio Camara, the former head of Mali's Military Academy, is considered the soul and brain of the revolt, as he pointed out to aBamako.com.

Principales miembros de la junta militar de Mali, que tomaron el poder el 18 de agosto
AFP/AFP - Key members of Mali's military junta, who took power on 18 August

According to Mali's army sources, the two officers left Bamako for Moscow in January 2020 for military training organised by the Russian armed forces, and both returned a little over a week before the military uprising. 

This increases the opinion that Diaw and Camara took advantage of the time spent in the Russian capital to plan the coup from Russia and that the two men instigated the plot from abroad.

The rumours of a coup had started to spread by the army at the beginning of August even before the two colonels returned to the country. 

"These two men spent a lot of time in Russia and a few days after their return executed a coup d'état easily and successfully," a noncoup leader from Mali told the Daily Beast. "This means they worked on this case for a long time," he added. "A coup of this nature is not something you plan to do in a few days," he concluded.

There is no evidence of Russian involvement, which has intervened in the election of several African leaders in recent years, but some military officials do not exclude their direct support, especially in the field of communications.

Now the intention of the leaders of the movement that ousted President Keita from power last Tuesday is to consolidate a transitional government and hold elections. The coup d'état took place at a critical moment for the African nation, which has been suffering from a series of mass protests since June demanding the resignation of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was criticised for not being able to tackle the corruption that is ravaging the country or restore security. The leadership behind the military uprising last week called on the international community to continue to support Mali at this time and have stated that the arrest of the president and prime minister Boubou Cissé is justified "by years of bad government, corruption, nepotism and a deterioration in the security situation". 

El expresidente de Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
REUTERS/LUDOVIC MARIN - Former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Much has been published recently about Russia's intention to consolidate its growing presence in Africa as other Western countries lose position on the African continent.

Construction of military bases, deployment of mercenaries and military and trade cooperation agreements. These are the lines that Russia is following in its expansion in Africa, which is seeking a greater political and diplomatic presence and also to benefit more from the natural and economic resources of the African continent. 

According to a report by the German foreign ministry, quoted by the newspaper Bild, since 2015 Russia has concluded military cooperation agreements with 21 African countries, whereas previously it had them with only four. Vladimir Putin does not wish to be left behind on the African continent, and, as China is doing, is seeking allies that will allow it to expand its influence.

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin
PHOTO/KREMLIN - Russian President Vladimir Putin

In recent months, nearly 200 Russian mercenaries have been deployed to Mozambique to combat a growing branch of Daesh. Furthermore, another German report stated that Russia obtained permission to establish military bases in six African countries, including Egypt and Sudan, in a move that reveals Moscow's wish to protect its role in Libya through a belt of bases where attacking it would be extremely dangerous. This is in addition to the hundreds of Russian combatants who have arrived in Libya as part of the Kremlin's campaign to support the Libyan National Army led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar in its war against Fayez Sarraj's National Accord government.

Furthermore, returning to the scene in Mali, according to General Dahirou Dembélé, Russia's military arrival is imminent to provide technical support to the Malian security and defence forces in their fight against the Jihadist terrorism that is ravaging the country and the troubled region of the Sahel. "Russia will soon be in the front line", Dahirou Dembélé himself said.

Talks with ECOWAS

Following the start of talks between the representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the military who staged the coup d'état in Mali on 18 August, the West African leaders are calling for the release and return to power of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. But in the streets, the demonstrations in support of the coup leaders show few signs that the deposed president will be able to return to power and even show popular support for countries like Russia and China. 

Los malienses que apoyan el reciente derrocamiento del presidente Ibrahim Boubacar Keita se reúnen para celebrarlo en Bamako, Mali, el viernes 21 de agosto de 2020. En el cartel en francés se lee "Gracias a China y Rusia por su apoyo en Mali"
PHOTO/AP - Malians supporting the recent overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita meet to celebrate in Bamako, Mali, on Friday, August 21, 2020. The French poster reads "Thank you to China and Russia for their support in Mali".

On Saturday, the ECOWAS delegation, composed of 15 countries of the region among which is Mali itself, arrived in Bamako led by Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria. On Tuesday, the neighbouring countries closed their borders and stopped financial flows into the country.

El expresidente nigeriano Goodluck Jonathan, centro, camina en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Bamako a su llegada el 22 de agosto de 2020 junto a Malick Diaw
AFP/ANNIE RISEMBERG - Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, centre, walks into Bamako International Airport on his arrival on 22 August 2020 with Malick Diaw

Meanwhile, on Saturday, before some members of the sent group could see Keita, the delegation met with the representatives of the National Committee for the People's Salvation, created by the coup military and headed by Colonel Assimi Goita, and talked about the rapprochement of positions. "The exchanges with the members of ECOWAS went very well," said the military spokesman Ismael Wagué. "We hope to find common ground," a military source told the AFP news agency. The talks "are going very well," said Jonathan, who was appointed by ECOWAS to mediate the political crisis in the country with the aim of ensuring an "immediate return to constitutional order" in the African nation.