Russia’s foreign minister says Mali is turning to private Russian companies “on legal grounds” as France plans to reduce its military presence.
Mali has asked Russian private companies to increase security in the conflict-affected country.
“This is an activity carried out on a legal basis,” Lavrov told reporters at the UN General Assembly on Saturday. “We have nothing to do with it,” he added.
Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s ties with Mali could have a serious impact if it allowed the controversial Wagner Group’s Russian private contractors to operate in the country.
In Mali, the dominant government of Bamako’s army is reportedly close to hiring Wagner’s 1,000 militants to help him fight militants.
France, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel region under its Barkhaneh mission but has promised significant troop withdrawals, has warned Mali that hiring Wagner fighters would isolate the country internationally.
Western countries accuse Wagner of acting on behalf of Moscow, while denying sending mercenaries abroad.
The Russian military, 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 accused Wagner contractors of abuse.
Moscow admits to having “instructors” in the CAR, but says they are not active in combat. Russia insists there are no paramilitaries in Libya, despite claims to the West.
In separate comments on Afghanistan, Lavrov says international recognition of Taliban is not currently under discussion
His remarks came after a group that came to power last month nominated a UN envoy to fight for Afghanistan’s seat on the world body.
“The issue of international recognition of the Taliban is not on the agenda at the moment,” Lavrov told reporters.