The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group has been working to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by trying to source the materials from Mali, where the group has a strong foothold, a US official told CNN.
The official, citing US intelligence declassified within the last week, said the Biden administration has been informed that Wagner has been trying to ship equipment for use in Ukraine through Mali and falsifying paperwork for the transactions.
There are no signs yet that Wagner has successfully procured the equipment, but the group has continued working to procure mines, drones, radar and counter-battery systems from contacts in Mali for use in Ukraine, the official said. “We are monitoring this closely,” the official added.
Wagner has sought to expand its foothold in Africa in recent years and has been operating alongside Mali’s armed forces for more than a year, fighting against a jihadist insurgency. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in September 2021 that the Malian government would be hiring private Russian mercenaries for help with security.
Mali is not the only country Wagner has turned to for help in Ukraine, officials believe, as the mercenary group faces severe shortages of weapons and ammunition amid fierce fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
A US intelligence document contained in a trove of classified information leaked online in recent months and obtained by CNN says that Wagner Group personnel met with “Turkish contacts” in early February with the intent “to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey” that could then be used in Ukraine. That document also said that Wagner was likely trying to use weapons procured from Turkey for use in its operations in Mali.
The White House has also previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia’s Wagner Group with missiles and rockets for use in Ukraine.
“Wagner is directly supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine, and we oppose efforts by any other country to assist Russia through Wagner,” the US official said. “The United States has sanctioned numerous entities and individuals, across multiple continents, that support Wagner’s military operations. We will continue to identify, expose, and counter these efforts by Wagner to procure military equipment for use in Ukraine.”