Russian armies in Mali? How a hijacked 2015 photo caused chaos

A Facebook page has used a photo of white men lined up in military gear with their heads turned to the right to claim that Russian servicemen have landed in Mali falsely. This image is actually a snapshot taken by a Russian photographer in 2015 during a military parade rehearsal near Moscow.

A photo of Russian soldiers is being circulated on social media along with a caption that they were Russian soldiers in Mali. Later, the AFP Factual service, which verified this information, confirmed by referring to its author that the image had been taken in Russia in 2015, not far from Moscow, during a military parade rehearsal.

The publication relayed by the Facebook page “My country Mali” is now marked by the social network as being false and verified by independent fact-checkers.

In the photo, there are men in Russian military uniforms smiling and with guns in their hands. Accompanied by the sentence “The Russian soldiers have indeed arrived in Bamako. The Russian experts are under investigation, bravo. We can no longer hide yet,” the publication has been shared more than 600 times since September 19.

2015 Russian military parade

The photo in question was actually taken by Russian photographer Vitaliy Kuzmin, who was contacted by AFP and confirmed on Twitter that the shot “was taken in April 2015 at the Alabino training ground in the Moscow region of Russia during the rehearsal of the parade marking the commemoration of Victory Day in Moscow in 2015”.

This Russian photographer with a passion for military photography has his site filled with many such shots, including the photo in question.

This is not the first time that this Facebook page uses this photo to illustrate articles about Russian soldiers, while it is always accompanied by sentences stating that they are expected in the country.

Tense relations

The photo in question, published two weeks ago, surfaced against a backdrop of tensions that have marked relations between Mali and France in particular. The latter has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with the intentions of the current Malian authorities to enter into a partnership with the Russian private military company Wagner.

“If Mali enters into a partnership with mercenaries, Mali will isolate itself, it will lose the support of the international community, which is very committed, and it will abandon entire sections of its sovereignty,” argued French Minister of the Army Florence Parly during questions to the government on September 29.

She said she had told them “what France thought of Wagner and what it thought of mercenaries in general”.

For his part, speaking about a possible agreement, Jean-Yves Le Drian had also previously warned that France could withdraw its troops if the ruling junta worked with the Wagner Group.

False information

Since Emmanuel Macron announced in June the end of the Barkhane operation in Mali and the reorganization of the mission, rumors about a possible agreement between Russia and Mali have appeared from time to time on the Web.

CNN and the investigative group, The Sentry, among others, reported critically on “a series of mass atrocities against civilians” allegedly committed in the Central African Republic by the Wagner Group, a private security company that journalists have linked to the Kremlin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the report a “propagandistic salvo”. It further emphasized that the investigation had provided no convincing evidence of Russian involvement in the crimes and that readers are being offered, as always, to “take the word” of what is shown.

Moreover, the head of Russian diplomacy said that more than 500 instructors were in the Central African Republic and that there were no plans to increase their number.

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