The Russian Foreign Minister said Mali’s turn towards Russian private companies was “on a legitimate basis” as France plans to reduce its military presence.
Mali has asked Russian private companies to strengthen security in the conflict-torn country, the Russian Foreign Minister confirmed, adding that Moscow was not involved.
“It is an activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” Sergei Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday. “We have nothing to do with it,” he added.
Earlier this week, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s relations with Mali could be seriously affected if it allowed Russian private military contractors from the controversial Wagner Group to operate in the country.
According to reports, the military-dominated Malian government in Bamako is about to hire 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries to help it fight armed groups.
France, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel region as part of its Barkhane mission but has pledged a major withdrawal of its troops, has warned Mali that hiring Wagner fighters will isolate the country internationally. .
Western countries accuse Wagner of having acted on behalf of Moscow, while denying having sent mercenaries abroad.
Russian paramilitaries, private security instructors and companies have become increasingly influential in parts of Africa in recent years, particularly in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), where the United Nations has blamed the contractors of Wagner for committing abuse.
Moscow admits to having deployed “instructors” in CAR but says they are not active in the fighting. Russia insists there are no paramilitaries in Libya, despite Western claims to the contrary.
In separate comments on Afghanistan, Lavrov said international recognition of the Taliban was not currently under consideration.
His remarks come after the group, which rose to power last month, appointed a UN envoy, staging a confrontation at Afghanistan’s headquarters at the world organization.
“The issue of international recognition of the Taliban at present is not on the table,” Lavrov told reporters.