Pro-government protesters in the Malian capital of Bamako unfurled Russian flags and banners with slogans such as “Down with France” in a bizarre demonstration on Friday.
A former French colony, forces from France had been operating in the troubled African state for some time to try and tackle Islamist insurrectionists, but the Emmanuel Macron-led European Union member-state has drawn down these operations amid tensions with a Malian government which is increasingly turning to Russia and Russian mercenaries for support instead.
Supporters of the military government rallied on Friday to express support for this shift, with some wearing Vladimir Putin masks and others bearing placards showing the Russian leader delivering a wheel kick to President Macron’s neck in martial arts garb.
Slogans such as “Down with France” and “Down with MINUSMA” were reportedly chanted — the latter a reference to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
U.S. officials said earlier this year that they had “observed the Malian junta bring Russian mercenaries into their country. They invited them.”
“They continue to deny this in public but my information is pretty clear, they have brought in Wagner,” U.S. Army General Stephen J. Townsend, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters in February, according to VICE.
The following month, according to Human Rights Watch, Malian forces and foreign mercenaries believed to be Russians rounded up and summarily executed hundreds of people in the town of Moura, ostensibly in an effort to suppress armed Islamists in the country.
European Union-trained Malian forces are also alleged to have engaged in atrocities.