Fr, 30.09.2022

Estonia terminates mission in the area taken over by the Wagner mercenaries

Evelyn Kaldoja
, välisuudiste toimetuse juhataja
Estonia terminates mission in the area taken over by the Wagner mercenaries
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Estonian servicemen who served in Mali at the Gao base.
Estonian servicemen who served in Mali at the Gao base. Photo: mil.ee
  • Estonian servicemen will terminate all missions in Mali.
  • Estonia will wait to see what will become of the French mission Barkhane.
  • Contribution to Mozambique will be quadrupled.

According to current plans, the number of Estonian troops on military missions next year will be smaller by a hundred than in 2021 because operations in the main mission area in Mali will be terminated.

The plan for foreign military missions for the coming year, presented to the government yesterday, mainly includes headquarters positions and high readiness units based in the homeland.

In the spring and summer of this year, Estonia's participation in Barkhane, the largest military operation in Mali in recent years, and in the special operations unit Takuba created under its aegis, came to an end. The reason is that the Malian authorities quarreled with France, the leader of these two combat operations, and decided last year to hire Wagner mercenaries linked to the Kremlin.

After the hiring of the Russians, relations between Bamako and Paris gradually deteriorated. The Malian authorities began to obstruct the French logistics and eventually demanded that they move their bases out of the country. In addition, the arriving Russians tried to incriminate the French with war crimes.

Waiting for a signal from the French

Due to unwillingness to work in the same country as the Wagner mercenaries, Estonia will end its participation in the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in Mali and the European Union training mission EUTM-Mali at the end of this year.

While France lowered the Barkhane flag in Mali on August 15, neither the EU nor the UN have announced the end of their missions. At the same time, concerns have been expressed in relation to MINUSMA, that UN peacekeepers may no longer be safe in that country if they cannot rely on the protection of the French combat mission.

The introduction of Russian mercenaries, who have already been associated with war crimes in several countries, has caused the Malian government increasing problems internationally.

For example, two weeks ago Bamako rejected a UN report, according to which the Russians organized a major bloodbath just a few months after arriving in Mali. According to the UN, the incident took place on April 19 this year, when Mali's own troops and foreign forces, whose name was not directly disclosed by the world organization, killed 50 people and detained 200 in a village in the Hombor region.

At the same time, the departure from Mali of the French and the countries that served with them in the combat mission does not mean that Barkhane has finished its operations. Although Mali was the hub until now, Barkhane officially covers four more Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

After Mali demanded that the French would leave, Burkina Faso and Niger have been discussed as a possible new Barkhane center. So far, however, Paris has not reached an agreement with either of them. Estonia, which was the first country to join Barkhane at the invitation of France, has remained on hold.

Increasing participation in Mozambique

As of now, the largest possible increase in participation – as much as four times – could take place in Estonia's only African mission planned for next year, EUTM-Mozambique. Numerically, this means increasing the previous one-person contribution to four.

Similar to the previous training mission in Mali, the Mozambique initiative, which began in 2021, takes place at the invitation of the local government to help improve the quality of the local military so that it they would be more capable to combat terrorism raising its head in the country.

Praising Putin in Niger

Over the weekend, the other Operation Barkhane country, Niger, saw protests against the French troops.

Like in Mali, it was obvious in the Niger demonstrations that the forces that organized protests against the French were related to Russia. The protesters, who came to the streets of the capital Niamey on Sunday, held slogans “Barkhane out” and “Down with the French” as well as Russian flags and slogans “Long live Putin”.

According to Africanews.com, a few hundred people participated in the protest. The organizer of the meeting, Seydou Abdoulaye of the M62 movement, told AFP news agency that they demand the withdrawal of the French soldiers because they destabilize the Sahel.

According to Abdoulaye, French soldiers had been spreading jihadism in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the third Operation Barkhane country. There have been similar demonstrations which praise Russia and attack the French in Niger and Burkina Faso before.

Niger has hosted France and the US military bases for years. In 2017, the US special forces lost four soldiers in an ambush there.

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