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Base Expansion in Mali Indicates Growing Wagner Group Investment

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The ongoing construction is significant because it not only shows that base operations continued uninterrupted after Prigozhin’s mutiny in June, but also demonstrates Wagner’s sustained intention to expand its operations out of Bamako. In particular, the construction of the revetted storage area portends a possible increase in high-value equipment transfers to Mali in the near future. This contradicts a flurry of rumors alleging that Wagner may be forced to draw down its forces in Africa but is in line with Prigozhin’s remarks in a recent videoreleased by Wagner-linked channels online, in which he promised that Wagner would refocus its attention on Africa.

The continuation of services in Mali is not surprising, given that Wagner and Moscow share the goals of both actual and perceived continuity of operations. Wagner’s operations in Africa—both the core paramilitary services and the broader network’s involvement in resource extraction, smuggling, influence operations, and other activities—are at the root of Prigozhin’s wealth and power. Similarly, Wagner’s involvement in Africa has been a fundamental tool for Moscow to expand its influence and achieve geopolitical goals on the continent in recent years. Both Prigozhin and the Russian state have too much to gain from continued Wagner operations and no real reason to pull out, especially since doing so would require abandoning the operational infrastructure and relationships Wagner has built with no replacement in sight.

Despite the messaging and best efforts of both Wagner and the Russian government, continuity of services is not guaranteed. Even if they attempt to preserve the operational infrastructure in partner countries, failures or gaps in service may become more likely as a result of any leadership reshuffling, limitations on recruitment or access to supplies, and personnel transfers between countries of deployment.

Regional actors and Western policymakers hoping to counter the spread of Wagner and contain the harm and insecurity that results from Wagner’s operations cannot wait for Russia to defang the PMC or for it to crumble from the inside. Opportunities for Wagner’s opponents therefore exist in those cracks—the differences between how Russia and Wagner hope their activities will be perceived and the realities on the ground. Policymakers can seek to exploit any transitional instability Wagner experiences by publicizing evidence of their failures and weaknesses, as well as working with local partners to develop viable alternative forms of security and governance assistance.

Catrina Doxsee is an associate director and associate fellow with the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. is a senior fellow for imagery analysis with the iDeas Lab and Korea Chair at CSIS. Jennifer Jun is a project manager and research associate for satellite imagery analysis with the iDeas Lab and Korea Chair at CSIS.