By John Ikani
Mali’s junta-dominated government has taken delivery of combat helicopters from Russia to help its army fight a bloody jihadist insurgency.
The junta, which seized power in 2020, has developed closer ties with Russia following a series of disagreements with France that saw the former colonial power began withdrawing its troops from the West African nation last month after almost 10 years fighting the jihadist threat.
About 75% of French troops are reported to have departed.
Defence Minister Sadio Camara late Wednesday formally received two helicopters, radar and other equipment brought by a Russian transport plane to a military base at Bamako airport.
The delivery adds to at least four helicopters and weapons provided by Russia under closer ties forged by rebel colonels who seized power in 2020.
Russia has also supplied what are officially described as military instructors — personnel that France says are operatives from Russia’s Wagner security arm.
Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group are now believed to be helping Mali’s military, though the junta has refused to confirm their deployment.
France’s foreign minister said in an interview with France24 on Wednesday that Mali’s military leaders had become “hostage” to the mercenaries from Wagner.
Jean-Yves le Drian accused Wagner of being engaged in human rights abuses and preying on Mali’s resources.
But Camara batted away such criticism, saying the equipment from Russia gave the army the autonomy it needed to battle insurgents.