“We do believe that Wagner is trying to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by working through third party countries where it has a foothold,” Miller said during briefing Monday.
“We have been informed that Wagner is seeking to transit material acquisitions to aid Russia’s war through Mali, and is willing to use false paperwork for these transactions,” Miller said.
The US believes Wagner Group has been trying to buy military systems from “foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali,” Miller said, adding there isn’t any indication these weapons acquisitions have been finalized or executed.
Mali’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Senior US officials have frequently condemned the Wagner Group’s activities in Africa — particularly in Mali and the Central African Republic — for further destabilizing countries struggling with conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has sanctioned the group and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin, said the mercenary outfit exploits African resources and is “a plague on people in the countries that have chosen to work with them.”
Miller’s comments about Mali come less than two weeks after the US ambassador to South Africa set off a diplomatic row when he said that a Russian cargo ship had collected armaments after docking late last year at the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town.
The allegations, which rattled investors concerned that the US could punish South Africa, caused the government in Pretoria to call in Ambassador Reuben Brigety for a meeting, with the South Africans saying in a statement afterward that he “admitted that he crossed the line and apologized unreservedly.”
Brigety said May 11 that he would “bet my life” on the claim that weapons had been loaded onto a Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, in December. Asked about the allegations, another State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said May 15 that the US did have “serious concerns” about the sanctioned ship docking in Cape Town.
Miller on Monday reiterated the department’s concerns about the incident in South Africa, though declined to say whether the Wagner Group is suspected of being involved or if the issues in the two countries are linked.