Information about the arrival of a group of four Russian instructors in Mali on January 11 has been published on social media. On the same day, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, made a public statement that the Wagner Group might pose a threat to the UN mission (MINUSMA) in that country.
This kind of reaction to the arrival of only four specialists, whose connection with the Wagner Group has not yet been proved, might seem surprising but it is explainable. In particular, the former NATO officer and military expert Josh Matthews, who is well aware of the capabilities of the Russian experts and whose opinion is quoted by the media, expressed his opinion on the potential of each combat unit of the Russian units.
According to Matthews, a former military himself, the concerns caused only by four Russian mercenaries are understandable. He believes that the few Russians who arrived in the African country are well trained and may not be mere instructors but experienced special forces.
“There is no surprise that the arrival of even four instructors draws such a response. Everyone knows that Russians are capable of anything. Four Russians can wreak more havoc, threatening even the 20,000-strong UN contingent, which, in turn, is subordinate to NATO. MINUSMA is established to maintain control of the situation but not to conduct hostilities. In addition, there is a clear division of responsibilities in Western countries. If you are in charge of procurement, that is where your responsibilities end. The situation with the Russians is different. The military instructors arriving may turn out to be well-trained specialists capable of countering IS and al-Qaeda,” he said.
According to Matthews, if the transitional authorities of Mali deal with the guerillas with the help of the Russians, it will undermine the credibility of NATO countries and show that the entire international community's presence in Mali is pointless from the very beginning of the armed conflict in the country.
According to military analyst Alexei Sukonkin, the emotional statement of the foreign military is reasonable. Western military establishments use a clear classification of military specialties and duties. Russian specialists have a wide range of knowledge and skills as standard. This is a familiar scheme for foreign troops, but in reality, contract terms might lead to a defeat.
“However, there is also the reverse side of the coin. I remember a joint exercise of the Marines, Russian and American that took place in the Primorsky territory a long time ago. During the landing, an American tracked assault vehicle, similar to our anti-tank machine, got stuck in the sand and stopped. It was pulled out only after engineering vehicles were brought ashore. Then it turned out, that two dozens of American marines, who had no obligation to pull out the stuck vehicle according to their official duties, were sitting in the stuck all-terrain vehicle the whole time as in the old army joke about demobilized soldiers. To put it simply, in the real situation, the coast-defense fighters would have burned the vehicle while it was standing there. This bunch of valorous soldiers could dig out the truck with spades in a couple of minutes. However, they have a different understanding of the situation,” Sukonkin said ironically.
In his opinion, the former NATO officer was concerned by the fact that Russian instructors are more skilled than Western soldiers. Well-trained British special forces, acting according to the instructions of the contract, are no match for the Russians.
“So, they were afraid of four instructors. Russia doesn’t have just four people in the army but a million if one counts all of them. I am afraid that this number will scare our “partners” literally to death if they only imagine for a moment what these people can do. Indeed, there is a lot to be scared of,” said Sukonkin.
Last November, the Malian authorities confirmed that Russian instructors had been invited to the republic to organize the training of local law enforcers. As part of the military-technical cooperation agreement between Russia and Mali, they are to ensure the enhancement of combat capabilities of the armed forces of the African country to effectively combat terrorist groups.
* The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized Al-Qaeda as an extremist organization banned in the territory of Russia on 13.11.2008; ruling No. 08-1956, entered into force on 27.11.2008