Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday vowed that Russia will continue helping Mali improve its military capabilities in a joint press conference aired live on state television.
Standing alongside his Malian counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, Russia top diplomat touted the August 2021 delivery of several fighter jets and helicopters, adding that more military support is assured.
“We have delivered very important aircraft,” he said, “and this has considerably increased the capacity of Malian armed forces to eradicate the terrorist threat.”
Russian support for the West African nation’s efforts to sustain a decade-long battle against al-Qaida and Islamic-State-linked militants has increased since France’s withdrawal from the country last year.
The French army intervened in Mali in 2013 after the north of the country was taken over by Islamist militants but withdrew last year on concerns about Mali’s military government working with Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries
The growing partnership between Moscow and Bamako has prompted Western concern. Mali has been under international scrutiny for cooperating with Russian Wagner mercenaries since last year, with the U.N. and several international human rights organizations calling for investigations of massacres committed by the mercenaries working with the Malian army.
Lavrov and Diop both referenced efforts by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in Mali. Both ministers described those efforts as “neocolonial,” with Diop claiming they are an effort to “destabilize” Mali.
Rights groups and journalists reported human rights abuse allegations committed by Russian mercenaries several times last year. Following one investigation, French broadcasts were banned from the country.
Last week U.N. experts called for an investigation into “international crimes” committed by the Wagner Group in Mali.
Following testimony at a U.N. Security Council meeting on January 27, Mali’s military government expelled the chief of the U.N. mission to Mali’s human rights division for “destabilizing and subversive” actions against the Malian government.
Violence has continued to spread south in recent years, with several attacks in recent months near Bamako attributed to Islamist militants. In July of last year, Mali’s main military base in Kati, 15 kilometers from Bamako, was attacked by Islamist militants.
Lavrov’s visit comes as Moscow seeks to shore up relations with its allies amid Western isolation because of its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian news agency RIA quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow hoped to start delivering wheat, fertilizers and oil products to Mali soon.
Lavrov has visited a series of African countries recently as Moscow, hit by Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, seeks to strengthen ties and strategic partnerships elsewhere.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.