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Russian forces expand base in Mali after death of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin | World News

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New satellite imagery reveals construction work at a former Wagner Group base at Modibo Keita International Airport in Mali.

High-resolution imagery obtained by Sky News offers the first detailed picture of this site since the death of the Wagner Group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in August 2023.

Map of Russian paramilitary deployments in North/West Africa from graphics
Image:
Map of Russian deployments in the region

Since then, the organisation has been taken in-house, with its functions absorbed by the Russian Defence Ministry.

The remnants of the Wagner Group are now reportedly being operated as Russia’s “Expeditionary Corps”.

When he died, Prigozhin’s death prompted speculation concerning the future of Russian influence and military presence in Africa.

For years, the Wagner Group played a key role in supporting aligned regimes across the continent, while profiting from arrangements such as mining and logging concessions.

Construction at former Wagner base

Captured by Maxar on 26 February, the satellite imagery obtained by Sky News suggests the Russian state remains committed to the development of its presence in Mali.

It shows construction at the site of Wagner’s former base at Modibo Keita International Airport, Mali’s main airport located approximately 15km from the capital Bamako.

In recent months, new buildings and roads appear to have been completed, a large area of ground has been cleared, and excavations have begun in two areas.

Reviewing the imagery, defence intelligence agency Janes stated that two of the larger new features resemble a possible new administrative building and revetted storage area.

Pic: Maxar Technologies
Image:
Pic: Maxar Technologies

In addition to showing the progress of construction at this site, the imagery suggests it is significantly more active than it has appeared in the past.

Over 40 vehicles of varying sizes are present, compared with a handful in July.

Russian activity in the region

Expansion and increased activity at this site suggest Prigozhin’s death and the subsequent reorganisation of the Wagner Group’s operations have not dulled the Russian government’s interest in maintaining a presence in Mali and the wider region.

Advert recruiting Russian African corps circulating on pro-Wagner Telegram channels
Image:
Advert recruiting Russian African Corps

In recent months, recruitment advertisements for Russia’s Africa Corps have circulated on Telegram, touting “high payments, free medical care”, and “service under the leadership of competent commanders”.

The country now enjoys positive relations with numerous regimes across the Sahel region, where it has sought to exploit areas of declining Western influence.

Image:
An undated photo provided by the French military shows three Russian mercenaries in northern Mali. Pic: AP

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The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open-source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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