BAMAKO – Mali seeks to reinforce its economic cooperation with Russia and get preferential access to essential products, the country’s foreign minister said on Tuesday as he prepared to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The meeting comes in the wake of a call last week by the United Nations for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces and Russian private military contractor Wagner Group in Mali.
Since coming to power in a 2020 coup, Mali’s ruling military junta has turned to Moscow even as it sparred with neighbours and Western nations over election delays and its decision to work with Russian mercenaries to combat an Islamist insurgency.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Mali that Moscow was committed to strengthening cooperation to help root out the militants. It also promised shipments of fuel, fertiliser and food worth around $100 million.
“We welcome all the steps taken by the authorities of the Russian Federation to create preferential conditions for my country to have access to basic necessities in a particularly difficult global economic context,” Mali’s foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told reporters.
Mali’s growing friendliness with Russia has coincided with a breakdown in relations with France, the country’s former colonial power. Last year, the rift led Paris to withdraw all its troops that had been battling militants since 2013.
Diop said the collaboration with Russia had delivered tangible results in defence and national security, as Mali continued its battle against insurgents.
Late in January, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Wagner Group a significant transnational criminal organization, as it bid to crack down on an entity responsible for atrocities in Ukraine. Fighters of the Wagner Group, who have also appeared in Syria, are notorious for the brutality of their tactics.