Just days after Bamako denied the presence of Russian mercenaries, Russia said it would continue to provide military assistance to Mali through state channels, the RIA news agency said on Monday citing a high Russian diplomat.
Last week, France, Canada and 13 European countries condemned Moscow for facilitating the alleged deployment of private military contractors from the Russian-backed Wagner Group to Mali, where the government is fighting an insurgency.
The Malian government on Saturday denied the presence of Russian mercenaries, but said “Russian trainers” were there as part of a bilateral agreement between Mali and Russia.
A cargo plane delivered four helicopters, weapons and ammunition from Russia to Mali in October, in what the Malian government said was a trade deal with the Russian state.
RIA on Monday quoted Piotr Ilichev, director of the department of international organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry, as saying in an interview that Bamako has the right to cooperate with any partners it wants in its fight against the militants.
“We will continue to defend Bamako’s legitimate interests with the UN (United Nations) and also to provide active assistance to our Malian partners in the military and military-technical fields through state channels,” Ilichev declared.
President Vladimir Putin has said that the Wagner Group does not represent the Russian state, but private military contractors have the right to work anywhere in the world as long as they do not break Russian law.
Ilichev was quoted as saying that France’s withdrawal from military bases in Mali had the potential to destabilize the region. Paris has previously denied suggestions that it is abandoning Mali.
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