Bamako-Mali has asked a private Russian military company to help it fight against insurgents, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday at the United Nations. According to Reuters, Mali’s year-old military junta is close to a deal to recruit the Russian private military contractors the Wagner Group, triggering opposition from France, which has said it was “incompatible” with a continued French presence in the West African state.
In a press briefing at UN Headquarters, Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov said “Given the external support has been diminished from those who assumed an obligation to help eradicate terrorism there, they have turned to a private Russian military company.” “They are combating terrorism”. “As I understand, France wants to significantly draw down its military component which was present there,” referencing a French plan to draw down its own military presence in Mali.
Russia is also contributing to Mali’s defense on a state level, providing military and technical equipment, he said. Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga has argued for the country’s need for a new security strategy, citing rampant terrorism and other forms of criminal violence in his address Saturday to the UN General Assembly.
Mali’s population is at a breaking point, he said, faced with “mass killings, villages razed and innocents cut down, in which women and their babies are often burned alive.” Maiga also accused France of abandoning his country with the “unilateral” decision to withdraw troops, and said his government was now justified to “seek other partners.”
France has long been a major security provider in the region. According to the French Ministry of Defense, as of September, France had 5,100 troops deployed across five countries in the Sahel region: Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. But French President Emmanuel Macron announced in June 2021 an end to the current French deployment in the Sahel region, Operation Barkhane, with a gradual handover to a multilateral mission.
The incoming international effort will be spearheaded by the Takuba Task Force, a European military task force led by France which advises, assists and accompanies Malian Armed Forces in the Sahel, according to the French president.
France has already raised concerns over the potential presence of Russian mercenaries in Mali, during a conversation between Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian earlier this week on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
On July 21, 2021, the Center for Strategic & International Studies published a report in which they examined Russia’s growing use of private military companies (PMCs) to increase its influence through irregular means.