This Info Flash examines the recent history and attempts to regulate mercenaries on national and international levels, the history of Russian mercenaries, and the implications of the use of mercenaries in Ukraine. There is a focus on the Wagner Group, which has grown in importance due to the group’s recent size increase and its leadership’s growing influence in the Kremlin. Targeting these groups through their finances and contracts is a good way for the West to counter their activities in Africa and the Middle East.
Mid-September, diplomatic and security sources warn the international community that Mali’s military junta was close to making a deal with the Warner Group, the Russian private military company. Indeed, two months ago, French President Macron announced that the French troops would leave the Sahel and that he would put an end to Operation Barkhane. Some leaders and experts made their voices heard to protest against this strategic decision opening a window of opportunity for Russia to extend its influence in the Sahel region. This calls into question the efficacity and effectiveness of the nearly decade-long French operation and the European involvement in this region. Aware of the limits of its strategy, the EU adopted a new integrated approach towards the Sahel in April 2021, focusing more on good governance and a transactional approach to build ties and trust with the local communities. Suppose there was a strong consensus in the scientific and political communities on building and promoting coherent strategic communication in those states. In that case, the Wagner deal proves that the EU is still not putting the concrete actions needed and asked for into practice. Disinformation, interference and mercenaries are at the heart of the Russian strategy to extend its geopolitical influence in Africa. With this new deal, the EU is approaching a critical juncture in the region again. How the EU reacts will determine if the EU Strategy towards the Sahel is failing again.