The United States has imposed sanctions on the head of the Wagner group in Mali, accusing the Russian private army of using the country as a conduit for arms and military equipment for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The US Treasury said Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov works closely with Malian officials to build Wagner’s presence in Mali and elsewhere in Africa.
In Africa, the Wagner group has brokered deals in Mali, Central African Republic, Libya and elsewhere, providing security for what are often autocratic national leaders, frequently in exchange for a share of the local mining of gold and other resources.
The powerful paramilitary group, controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, moved into Mali last year to help the ruling junta with security issues and to seek business opportunities in mining after French soldiers pulled out.
“The Wagner Group may be attempting to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by working through Mali and other countries where it has a foothold,” the Treasury said in a statement.
It said Wagner could be using false documentation to hide the acquisition and transit of mines, uncrewed aerial vehicles, radar and counterbattery systems for use in Ukraine.
It described Mali as a hub for Russian expansion in the region.
As Mali Wagner head, Maslov “arranges meetings between Prigozhin and government officials from several African nations”, the Treasury said.
The Wagner group has also been accused of taking part in a massacre by Malian troops of hundreds of people last year.
A United Nations report in early May did not name Wagner, but said foreign fighters took part in the execution of at least 500 people during an anti-jihadist operation in the Moura area of Mali in March 2022.
But a UN expert group in January accused Wagner of being involved.
“We are disturbed by the apparent increased outsourcing of traditional military functions to the so-called Wagner group in various military operations,” the experts said.
In a parallel action, on Thursday the state department blacklisted two Mali military officials, Col Moustaph Sangare and Maj Lassine Togola, saying they were responsible for the Moura killings.