Russian foreign minister says Mali’s turn towards private Russian companies done ‘on legitimate basis’, as France plans to reduce its military presence.
Mali has asked Russian private companies to boost security in the conflict-torn country, Russia’s foreign minister confirmed, adding that Moscow was not involved.
“This is activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” Sergey Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday. “We have nothing to do with that,” he added.
Earlier this week, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s ties with Mali could be seriously affected if it allows Russian private military contractors from the controversial Wagner Group to operate in the country.
According to reports, Mali’s army-dominated government in Bamako is close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries to help it in the fight against armed groups.
France, which has deployed more than 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel region under its Barkhane mission but has pledged a major troop drawdown, has warned Mali that hiring Wagner fighters would isolate the country internationally.
Western countries accuse Wagner of acting on behalf of Moscow, while denies sending mercenaries abroad.
Russian paramilitaries, private security instructors and companies have grown increasingly influential in parts of Africa in recent years, particularly in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), where the United Nations has accused Wagner contractors of committing abuses.
Moscow admits having deployed “instructors” to CAR but says they are not active in fighting. Russia insists there are no paramilitaries in Libya, despite Western claims to the contrary.
In separate comments about Afghanistan, Lavrov said international recognition of the Taliban was not currently under consideration
His remarks come after the group, which swept to power last month, nominated a UN envoy, setting up a showdown over Afghanistan’s seat at the world body.
“The question of international recognition of the Taliban at the present juncture is not on the table,” Lavrov told reporters.