By John Ikani
The Prime Minister of Mali, Choguel Maiga on Saturday told United Nations General Assembly that it has asked a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group to help it fight against insurgents, as his country felt abandoned by the French military’s withdrawal from Barkhane, north of the country.
He explained that the West African nation is 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.
“This is activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” he said during a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.
“We have nothing to do with that,” he added, saying the Malian government estimated that “its own capacities would be insufficient in the absence of external support” and initiated the discussions.
“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.
According to reports, Mali’s army-dominated government in Bamako is close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries.
France has warned Mali that hiring the fighters from the Russian private-security firm would isolate the country internationally.
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 UN General Assembly in New York.