Russia trained Mali coup leaders

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ABUJA, Nigeria – Leaders of the coup that overthrew Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita spent most of the year training in Russia before returning to expel the democratically elected leader under threat of a weapon, according to sources from the Malian army.Rebels took control of Mali’s largest military base in Kati, just outside the capital, Bamako, on Tuesday before storming Keita’s official residence, grabbing the president and forcing him to resign from his post. his post as leader of the West African nation.

Numerous media outlets, including the BBC, immediately reported that the coup was led by Malick Diaw and Sadio Camara, two army colonels who hold senior positions at the Kati military base and are believed to be very close friends. But there is something else the two men have in common: they were trained by the military in Russia.

Two Malian military officials told the Daily Beast that Diaw and Camara were in Russia before returning to Mali to stage Tuesday’s coup, confirming a local media report. The two officers reportedly left Bamako for Moscow at the start of the year to undergo military training sponsored by the Russian armed forces, they returned just over a week before the execution of the coup.

Malian army sources told the Daily Beast that a number of senior officers suspected Diaw and Camara of plotting the coup from Russia and that the two had been in contact with others. people involved in the plot from their training base abroad. Rumors that some officers were considering a coup began to quietly spread through the military in early August, even before the two colonels returned home.

“A coup of this nature is not something you plan in a few days,” a Malian army lieutenant, who had previously served in Kati, told The Daily Beast, on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak.

“These two men spent a long time in Russia and a few days after their return, they executed a coup easily and successfully,” said the lieutenant, who was not involved in the plot. “That should tell you that they’ve been working on this for a long time. ”

It is not yet clear whether Diaw and Camara have sought military assistance or cover from Russia, which interfered in the election of a number of African leaders in recent years.

Some military officials do not exclude the direct involvement of Russia. “Maybe in terms of communication they got protection from the Russians,” the army lieutenant said. “One will suppose that the Russians would have watched their lines of communication since the officers were foreign soldiers staying in Russia. ”

Just before noon on Tuesday, soldiers loyal to Diaw, the second highest ranked administrator at the Kati military base, took control of the camp’s arsenal and began arresting their superiors. Once they took control of the base, they traveled to Bamako where they arrested President Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cissé and returned to the base with the two men before forcing them to relinquish power. .

At the time of the coup, Diaw, who is believed to be in his 30s, was deputy head of the Kati military base, a post he reportedly held for over a year. His role in Tuesday’s coup will likely earn him an influential position in the junta.

Camara, the co-leader of the coup, previously ran Kati’s military academy. BBC Africa, citing local media, reported that he was born in 1979. He was director of the Kati military academy for many years until January, when he left his post for training. military in Russia alongside Diaw. He returned to Bamako from Moscow more than a week ago to begin a month-long leave and, unbeknownst to many, to execute a coup.

“There were only a few people who knew they were back from their trip,” a Malian army colonel, who was not involved in the coup, told The Daily Beast. ” [It was] especially their relatives and who plotted the coup d’état with the two officers [that knew they had returned from Russia].  »

Russia has a reputation for entering African countries and hoping to reshape its policy for material ends; a candidate backed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian financier indicted in the United States for targeting the 2016 presidential election, became president of Madagascar; a former Russian intelligence officer is now the principal security adviser to the President of the Central African Republic; and the Kremlin has been caught interfering in the domestic politics of eight African countries through social media networks linked to entities linked to Prigozhin.

It is still unclear how the Malian plotters plan to rule the country they now rule as a military junta, or whether they will invite aid from Moscow.

On Wednesday, Assimi Goita, a colonel in the Malian army, announced that he had taken over the country and declared himself head of the junta. Goita – one of five soldiers who announced the coup on state broadcaster ORTM – met with senior officials whom he urged to immediately return to work.

“By making this intervention, we put Mali first,” Goita told officials, while trying to justify Keita’s forcible return.

Before the coup, he was the head of a special military unit based in central Mali and had participated in the annual Flintlock training organized by the US military to help countries in the Sahel region fight better against the militants.

“Mali is in a socio-political and security crisis,” he said. “There is no more room for mistakes.”

Tuesday’s mutiny could turn out to be an even bigger mistake. A similar coup in 2012, which began at the same military base in Kati, created political disagreement and uncertainty nationwide. This has allowed extremist groups to expand their reach in northern Mali. Despite French military intervention, which has slowed their progress, these jihadist groups are still active in the region and can capitalize on the current leadership crisis to expand their jihad, it remains to be seen what the Kremlin does with this threat.

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