France’s defense minister warned Mali on Tuesday against hiring Russian private security company Wagner, French media said after reports indicated that the West African country’s military government was close to concluding an agreement for 1,000 mercenaries.
When Florence Parly appeared before a parliamentary commission, it told a parliamentary commission on Malian authorities that a contract had been signed with Wagner, “it would be extremely disturbing and contradictory.”
“It is incompatible with everything we have done for years and we intend to do it to support the countries of the Sahel region,” she said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Her comments came days after Reuters reported that the Wagner Group would receive about 6 billion CFA francs ($ 10.8 million) a month for its services.
A spokesman for the Malian Ministry of Defense said, however, that although the government has not yet signed an agreement with Wagner, he did not deny the ongoing discussions, according to the report.
“Mali intends to diversify its relations in the medium term to ensure the country’s security,” the spokesman told AFP. “We have not drawn anything with Wagner, but we are talking to everyone.”
In 2013, France sent troops to Mali after riots broke out in the north of the country. But relations between the two deteriorated after a coup in August 2020 that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
France suspended military cooperation with Mali in June, and French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that he will close bases in northern Mali and reduce French troops in the Sahel region.
The growing influence of Russian paramilitary companies and advisers has been witnessed in the Central African Republic (CAR), to the horror of France. Wagner forces are also reportedly in Libya, Sudan and Mozambique. Mali has been fighting an insurgency linked to the terrorist groups al-Qaida and Daesh since 2012, when riots began in the north
The Wagner group has often been criticized for intervening in other countries. A French source said that “an intervention by this actor would therefore be incompatible with the efforts of Mali’s Sahelian and international partners involved in the Sahel coalition for security and development of the region”, according to media reports.
As tensions between France and Mali’s military government have eased recently, Bamako has turned its attention to Russia with its defense minister Sadio Camara on a visit to Moscow and the monitoring of tank exercises earlier in September.