Germany warns Mali over Russian mercenary deal

Germany warned Mali on Wednesday that a deal with Russian private security group Wagner would “call into question” its deployment in the West African country as part of United Nations and European Union missions.

“If Mali’s government makes such a deal with Russia, then it goes against everything that Germany, France, the EU and the UN have been doing in Mali over the last eight years,” wrote Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Twitter.

French sources told AFP this week that the Malian government was nearing a deal with Wagner to hire nearly 1,000 mercenaries, an agreement that would underscore Moscow’s growing influence in the region.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Tuesday warned Mali against signing a contract with Wagner, saying it would be “incoherent with everything we have done” in the Sahel region.

A spokesperson for the Malian defence ministry has not denied the discussions, which were first reported by Reuters news agency on Monday.

“Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country,” the spokesperson told AFP. 

“We haven’t signed anything with Wagner, but we are talking with everyone.”

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman called the prospect of Mali partnering with Russian mercenaries “extremely worrying” and said it was in close contact with French counterparts over the issue.

Germany has around 1,500 soldiers in Mali as part of the UN’s Minusma peacekeeping mission and the EU’s mission to train Malian soldiers. It is currently Germany’s most dangerous foreign deployment.

France first sent troops to Mali in 2013 after Islamist militants overran the north of the country. 

Since then, Paris has deployed thousands of troops to the wider Sahel region where they carry out operations alongside local forces against Islamist rebels linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. 

In recent years, Russian paramilitaries, security instructors, companies and advisors have grown increasingly influential in Africa, particularly in the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR).

The Kremlin said Wednesday there were no formal discussions on military cooperation with Mali.