The Russian military has deployed troops to Mali to provide military training for the Mali defence forces near Timbuktu.
A government spokesman statement confirmed the development but did not state the number of Russian soldiers in the West African country nor if any of them are affiliated with private military groups, such as the Wagner Group, rather than Russia’s official defence forces.
This deployment comes amid tensions between Mali and France over the Sahel region and the withdrawal of French forces from the north-central city of Timbuktu.
Mali’s decision under Assimi Goita, who replaced Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a coup in 2020, has been condemned by Western governments.
The United States announced last month that it would support European Union sanctions against Wagner Group and individuals associated with the private military force.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials have defended Mali’s right to choose their own security partners.
“Private military companies are not controlled by official Russian authorities,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, during a December press conference.
Officials from the U.S. military have noted the presence of Russian fighters in 16 African nations, including Libya and the Central African Republic. The Russian fighters were also reportedly involved in the uprisings that ousted former president Omar al-Bashir.
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