Mali says Russia’s Lavrov will visit to strengthen defense ties

BAMAKO — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to visit Mali for two days this week, the Malian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, a visit that reflects a shared desire to strengthen ties between defense and security. said.

Lavrov will arrive in Bamako on Monday. It was the first official visit by a Russian foreign minister to a West African country and focused on Russia’s growing influence on the continent while it was at odds with the West over an invasion of Ukraine. It reflects that

Since coming to power in a 2020 coup, Mali’s ruling military junta has been at odds with neighbors and the West over delayed elections and its decision to join forces with Russian mercenaries to fight Islamist insurgency. Nonetheless, he has his sights set on Moscow.

“This high-level visit is in line with the transitional government’s political choice to expand and diversify its strategic partnerships,” the Mali ministry said in a statement.

Lavrov’s visit “shows the firm determination of the leaders of Mali and Russia to give new impetus to friendly relations and bilateral cooperation in priority areas, especially in defense and security,” the ministry said.

Mali has been engaged in a battle against extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which has waged a decade-long insurgency that has spread to neighboring countries.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Mali that Moscow had promised to step up cooperation to root out extremism. He also pledged about $100 million worth of fuel, fertilizer and food shipments.

Mali’s growing Russian friendliness coincides with the breakdown of relations with its former colonial power, France. Last year, the rift forced Paris to withdraw all units that had fought the militants since her 2013.

Last Tuesday, UN experts called for an independent inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Malian government forces and the Russian private military company Wagner Group.

Mali has previously said that the Russian army in the country is not mercenaries, but trainers who support local forces with equipment purchased from Russia.

Lavrov is currently in Baghdad for talks on improving bilateral relations and energy cooperation.