Russia’s Lavrov visits Mali in sign of deepening ties

BAMAKO (AFP): Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Mali early Tuesday for talks with its junta leaders seeking Moscow’s help in battling an insurgency that remains entrenched 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 visit of fewer than 24 hours 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.

Since taking control of Mali in two coups since August 2020, the military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita has embraced Russian support to aid its fight after evicting the forces of former colonial ruler 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 will hold talks Tuesday with Goita, as well as with foreign affairs minister Diop, and a press conference is scheduled afterwards.

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.