France is preparing to implement a new information warfare tool in Africa to counter Moscow's influence. This involves the creation of a task force within the foreign ministry and another within the ministry of armed forces, but also the use of private providers.
Following the lead of ECOWAS, the EU is gearing up to impose sanctions on the regime in Bamako, which has postponed the presidential election and welcomed Russian paramilitaries from Wagner onto Malian soil. The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell is due to hold a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of the G5 Sahel countries on 26 January to discuss the situation in Mali.
The Malian junta and the Russian paramilitary company Wagner are close to an agreement that would provide for the deployment of 500 men in about ten localities. France, bitterly opposed to the arrival of Russian mercenaries, is due to hold a defence council on Mali at the Elysée on 22 December.
The military junta has just given the Malian army new armoured vehicles of Russian and Chinese origin. But by having many different suppliers, the army is actually running the risk of becoming less effective in its operations against armed groups.
By participating in Mozambican operations, the Rwandan army, already busy in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, has become one of Kigali's key exports. President Paul Kagame relies on a structure geared to external operations, and on allies beyond Africa.
Chad's interim leader, who is also the current head of the G5 Sahel of which Mali is a member, is expected in Bamako by the end of the month. He hopes to dissuade coup leader Assimi Goita and the Malian junta from hiring the Russian paramilitary company Wagner.
The Malian government, which has been without the means to airlift its troops into northern Mali for more than a year, earlier this month recovered its Airbus Casa C295 transport aircaft, which has been out of action for a year for maintenance.
As relations between Bamako and Paris continue to sour, France wants the EU to slap sanctions on several Malian officials seen to be rocking the boat ahead of next year's presidential poll. Meanwhile, ECOWAS is considering similar punitive measures.
Discreetly but insistently, France is working with its Western and African partners to prevent the junta going into partnership with Russian paramilitary group Wagner. Meanwhile, ECOWAS, egged on by Macron, is considering slapping sanctions on Mali's new leaders.
Following President Macron's announcement on 10 June of France's plans to end Operation Barkhane, the French presidency is trying to mobilise its partners regarding the situation in the Sahel. French diplomats have begun a major operation to persuade the European Union, the UN and the African Union to get more involved in the region, with a Sahel Coalition summit coming up in July and France due to take the chair of the UN Security Council on 1 July.
With just over a year to go before the presidential election, and in light of the events of recent weeks, the French public is starting to take more notice of the country's military presence in the Sahel region.