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Putin’s Africa endgame: Macron accuses Russia of stoking anti-French sentiment

It was always a stretch. Emmanuel Macron kept the lines of communication open with Vladimir Putin while Russia’s propaganda machine and the mercenaries of Wagner fueled anti-French sentiment in Africa. But in an interview on the sidelines of a Francophone nations summit in Tunisia, it sounds like the gloves are now off.

Macron’s remarks came ahead of the first anniversary of Mali’s junta inviting Wagner to replace the French troops fighting jihadist insurgents. A new report shows that attacks have since increased, along with claims of human rights abuses by the mercenaries.

And yet, many Malians stand by the junta and its unsubstantiated claim that somehow the French are in cohoots with the Islamists – a claim the Russians have stoked on their networks and social media. What does Paris do? What does Europe do?

We’re now seeing a move by European lawmakers to follow the lead of Estonia and brand Wagner and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin a terror organisation. What would that change for a Kremlin insider whose stature seems to have grown since the invasion of Ukraine? More broadly, what’s changed for the likes of Mali in the nine months since Putin launched his so-called military operation?