Bamako, Mali (AFP):
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has arrived in Mali for talks with its junta leaders seeking Moscow’s help in battling an insurgency that remains alive despite years of fighting.
Lavrov, who was in Iraq on Monday, was welcomed upon his arrival by his counterpart Abdoulaye Diop. The two men did not make any statements to journalists.
The short visit will be his third trip to Africa since July, part of a bid to expand Russia’s presence on the continent amid broad international isolation after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
The military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita has embraced Russian support to aid its fight against religious militancy after evicting the forces of former colonial power France.
Several Malian officials have travelled to Moscow, but the visit by Lavrov is “the first of its kind” aimed at cementing “a new dynamic” for security and economic cooperation between the two countries, according to Mali’s foreign ministry.
Lavrov held talks with Goita, as well as with foreign affairs minister Diop.
Mali has already received planes and attack helicopters from Moscow as well as several hundred Russian soldiers described by Mali’s leaders as “instructors” who are helping to reinforce its defence and sovereignty.
Western officials and some rights groups say the fighters are actually paramilitaries with the Wagner group, who have been accused of brutal tactics and rights abuses elsewhere in Africa.
Mali’s leaders have claimed successes against militant groups that have targeted the government for the past decade — a crisis that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
However, foreign observers, including the United Nations, have cast doubt on the claims, noting persistent attacks in the north and northeast of the country.