Russian military advisers are said to help Mali train its security forces. Western countries have criticized Mali for allowing mercenaries from the Russian group Wagner to operate in the West African country.
Hundreds of Russian military advisers have been deployed to Mali in recent weeks, according to members of the Malian army.
What do we know so far?
A member of the Malian armed forces told French news agency AFP on Friday that as many as 400 Russian soldiers could be stationed in the West African country.
A spokesperson for the Malian army said Thursday that Russian soldiers were stationed in the northern city of Timbuktu to assist Malian forces.
Mali has been criticized for allowing mercenaries from the Russian group Wagner to operate in its territory. The mercenaries are believed to be supported by the Russian government and have been accused of committing human rights violations in other countries.
In December, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and several other countries condemned the alleged presence of Wagner’s mercenaries in the countryside. The issue is particularly sensitive for the French government, as France has around 5,000 troops deployed in the West African region.
Mali denounces Wagner’s allegations
Mali has refuted the allegations and denied that he works with the Wagner group.
The Kremlin also claimed that Wagner was not sponsored by the Russian government. Still, the deployment of Russian military advisers to the country could help Moscow gain a foothold in the West African region.
An anonymous Malian elected official told AFP that both mercenaries and Russian troops are active in the country.
Mali has been battling a jihadist insurgency over the past decade, which has also impacted neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The country is also reeling from political instability, with Mali having experienced three military coups since 2012.
wd / sms (AFP, Reuters, epd)