Mali confirmed at the United Nations General Assembly that it has asked a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group to help it fight against insurgents.
Prime Minister Choguel Maiga told the Assembly on Saturday that his country felt abandoned by the French military withdrawal from Barkhane, north of the country.
He said they were seeking other military help “to fill the gap which will certainly result from the withdrawal of Barkhane in the north of the country.”
“The new situation resulting from the end of Operation Barkhane puts Mali before a fait accompli – abandoning us, mid flight to a certain extent – and it leads us to explore pathways and means to better ensure our security autonomously, or with other partners,” he said.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who also spoke about the issue said his government has no hand in the deal.
Mali’s near engagement of the Wagner Group has triggered opposition from France.
It despatched its minister of armed forces to Mali to pass the message that the move was “incompatible” with a continued French presence in the West African state.
“They are combating terrorism, incidentally, and they have turned to a private military company from Russia in connection with the fact that, as I understand, France wants to significantly draw down its military component which was present there,” Lavrov said of Mali’s junta during a news conference.
The French defence ministry declined to comment. Paris has started reshaping its 5,000-strong Barkhane mission to include more European partners and earlier this month began redeploying from bases in northern Mali.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday that he told Lavrov and his counterpart from Mali this week in New York that the potential deployment of the Wagner Group would be a “red line” for the European Union, “and it would have immediate consequences on our cooperation.”
EU foreign ministers discussed the issue on Monday during a closed-door meeting on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly in New York.