Mali’s interim prime minister, Choguel Maïga, has accused France of “abandoning” the nation “mid-flight” after the European country decided to reduce its troops there by up to half.
In June, France announced that the counter-terrorism mission it leads in the Sahel – Operation Barkhane – will see its numbers fall from from 5,100 to 2,500-3,000 over the next few months.
Speaking at the UN general assembly on Saturday, Mr Maïga criticised the “unilateral announcement”, adding that it “leads us to explore pathways and means to better ensure our security autonomously, or with other partners”.
This has been interpreted as a reference to Mali reportedly asking Russian mercenaries to train its military and boost national security, despite recent reports of abuses by Russian mercenaries elsewhere in the continent – most recently the Central African Republic.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the Malian government was turning towards “private Russian companies.”
“This is activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” he said during a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.
“We have nothing to do with that,” he added, saying the Malian government estimated that “its own capacities would be insufficient in the absence of external support” and initiated the discussions.
According to reports, Mali’s army-dominated government in Bamako is close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries. However, France has warned them that hiring the fighters from the Russian private-security firm would isolate the country internationally.
Source: BBC & AFP