France's defense minister has warned her Malian counterpart against hiring Russian private security firm Vagner to fight Islamic militants in the Sahel.
"Such a choice would be one of isolation," French Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters on September 20 after meeting Defense Minister Colonel Sadio Camara during a visit to Mali.
A Malian Defense Ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Camara assured Parly that no decision had been made.
Paris is planning to reduce troop numbers across the Sahel by early 2022, and the Malian Defense Ministry official said that France's "abandonment" of Mali meant "everything had to be considered to secure the country." The official said that Parly denied that France is abandoning Mali.
Vagner is believed to be controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
France last week cautioned the West African nation against a deal with Vagner after unconfirmed reports the junta is close to hiring its paramilitaries to train its armed forces and protect officials.
Germany also has warned it will reconsider its deployment in Mali should the government strike a deal with Vagner.
Mali's ruling junta on September 19 dismissed the warnings, saying it will “not allow any state to make its choices."
The poor and landlocked nation slid into political turmoil last year, culminating in a military coup in August 2020 against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under the threat of sanctions, the military then appointed an interim civilian government tasked with steering the country back to democratic rule.
But army strongman Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew that government in May and was later declared interim president. Goita has pledged to respect a February 2022 deadline for civilian elections.