European countries have warned the Mali government on the sidelines of this week’s UN General Assembly not to hire mercenaries from the controversial Russian private security company Wagner.
However, as Paris prepared to reduce its military contingent in Mali, Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the Mali government was turning to “private Russian companies.”
“This is an activity that is being done legally,” he said at a news conference at UN headquarters in New York.
“We have nothing to do with this,” Russia’s head of diplomacy said, adding that the Mali government had estimated that “without external support, its own capabilities would not be enough” and initiated discussions.
There have been reports recently that the military-dominated government of the former French colony intends to hire a thousand Wagner fighters.
France has warned Mali that such a move would mean international isolation for the government.
However, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga, speaking to the General Assembly, accused France of having “unilaterally” reduced the contingent by abandoning his country.
According to him, the government could reasonably be “looking for other partners” to help it strengthen security.
Wagner is seen as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused of human rights abuses.
Members of Russian paramilitary structures, private security instructors and companies have increased their influence in Africa in recent years, especially in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), where Wagner contractors have committed serious violations, according to the United Nations.
Last week, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix argued that any partnership between Mali and Wagner should be “developed in full respect of human rights”.
The United Nations holds 13,000 people in Mali. peacekeepers.