The Wagner Group’s Rise in Mali

Intelligence Brief: The Wagner Group’s Rise in Mali

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Our OSINT analysts prepared a brief overview of the media mention trends surrounding the French troops withdrawal from Mali and the increasing influence of the Russian Wagner Group. This short analysis uses a small sample of data collected by our Media Mining System between February and April 2022 and covers selected topics, including Named Entity Relations Graph, Trend Analysis, qualitative Social Media Analysis, as well as visualizations of media mentions.

Background Information – Brief Overview

On February 17, 2022, President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French troops from the West African nation of Mali. The approximately 5.000 soldiers stationed in Mali will retreat within the next few months after nearly a decade of deployment.

The French military operation had its onset in 2013 and was supposed to support the Malian government in its fight against jihadist cells that operate across the Sahel. While French troops received a warm welcome at the beginning, the relationship deteriorated over time. It was the steady increase in Islamist terrorist attacks that led to the criticism of France’s deployment. France in turn took issue with the Malian military junta, which seized power in a coup in 2020 and subsequently invited the Russian private security contractors of the Wagner Group to support the fight against terrorism.

Tensions that had been simmering for years ultimately led to France’s decision to withdraw from Mali.

Trend Analysis - Mentions of Mali

Through strategic mining of multi-media sources – including audio and text processing – it is possible to monitor and identify trends in real-time. The trend graph below shows mentions of Mali in traditional and social media over the past three months.

Trend graph generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool
Trend graph generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

On February 17, a significant increase in mentions of Mali and France can be observed. This can be attributed to Macron announcing France’s withdrawal from Mali.

Trend graph and social media posts generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

Word Cloud Analysis - Mali and France

The word cloud tool allows for visualizing names, entities, organizations and countries. The size of the font represents the number of times an entity has been mentioned. The data refers to mentions of both Mali and France in traditional and social media in the past three months.

Word Clouds generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

While most of the related topics deal with the strained relations between Mali and France, other topics can be observed as well: for example, there are mentions of Russia and mercenaries, which most likely refer to the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company. This will be discussed in more detail as part of the following chapters.

Trend Analysis - Mentions of Mali and the Wagner Group

The trend graph below shows correlating mentions of Mali and the Wagner Group in traditional and social media in the past month.

Trend graph generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

On April 22 and 23, a strong joint increase in mentions of Mali and the Wagner Group can be observed. This is due to allegations linking French military to mass graves found near the former military base Gossi in northern Mali. French military officials called the allegations an “information attack” and provided a video that appears to show members of the Wagner Group burying bodies at this very location.

Qualitative Analysis - Wagner Group

The following tweets were shared in reference to the mass graves near Gossi. The included screenshots, sourced with the HENSOLDT Analytics Media Mining System, were selected based on high post potential reach (i.e., the number of people who may have seen the posts).

Social media posts captured and generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

Relations Graph – Wagner Group

The HENSOLDT Analytics relations widget displays the most closely associated named entities related to Mali and the Wagner Group in the last month. The colour of the lines connecting the entities visualizes the sentiment between different profiles.

Relations graph generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

Two correlations are worth highlighting:

  • Mentions of UAVs refer to information collected by French drones about the Wagner Group’s involvement in the killings.

  • Relations between the Wagner Group with Mozambique, Libya and Syria are characterized by a positive sentiment. Although Western media accuse the Wagner Group of possible war crimes, it seems to be the case that some country’s national media support the role of the Russian mercenaries in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

Globe Analysis – Wagner Group

The Globe widget visualizes the search results on a geographical map, providing an overview of all locations and countries mentioned (red dots = locations; orange dots = countries). The maps below show all mentions of the Wagner Group in the respective time frames. What can be noted is a particular density of mentions of Wagner and Libya in 2021, while this year, West Africa and Mali are mentioned most in connection with the Wagner Group. The high number of mentions in Libya in 2021 results from reports exposing the scale of the Wagner Group’s mission in Libya.

Media mentions globe visualisation generated by HENSOLDT Analytics' Media Mining tool

Outlook: Russia‘s Influence in Africa

Although France is pulling its troops from Mali, it is not the end of their operation in the Sahel, as Macron announced that most of the troops will be redeployed to Niger. The question is whether things will be different there, or whether the French troops will face a similar fate as in Mali.

What role the Wagner Group will play in the future is unclear. However, Russia has indirectly expanded its influence in Africa by deploying the mercenary force. This influence remains, even though some of Wagner’s personnel have recently been withdrawn from Africa to support Russian troops in Ukraine.

This is a brief and unbiased overview of the data collected by the HENSOLDT Analytics system and does not represent the entirety of the information gathered on the topic thus cannot be treated as singular and final analysis of the event(s).

HENSOLDT Analytics
HENSOLDT Analytics

HENSOLDT Analytics is a global leading provider of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) systems and Natural Language Processing technologies, such as Automatic Speech Recognition, which are key elements for media monitoring and analysis.