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Germany Echoes French Concerns About Reported Russian Mercenary Deal With Mali's Junta

A Malian soldier is pictured during a training session on a D-30 howitzer with the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali on March 23.
A Malian soldier is pictured during a training session on a D-30 howitzer with the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali on March 23.

Germany joined France on September 15 in expressing concern about reports of an agreement between Mali’s new military rulers and the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor with ties to the Kremlin.

Germany has several hundred soldiers taking part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission and a European Union training program in the West African country.

"If Mali's government reaches such agreements with Russia, it contradicts everything that Germany, France, the EU, and the UN have been doing in Mali for eight years," said German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

“If cooperation between Mali and Russian mercenary groups is confirmed, that puts into question the mandate of the German military, the UN’s Mali mission MINUSMA, and the EU’s training mission,” she said, adding that there would be consequences.

France has been at the forefront of a broader counterterrorism operation in the Sahel region with about 5,000 troops ever since a coup in Mali in 2012 helped trigger an Islamist insurgency in the north.

But France announced plans earlier this year to reduce that force to 2,500 to 3,000 troops in the coming years.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed concern on September 14 about the possible use of Russian mercenary troops in Mali in comments to the National Assembly's Defense Committee.

"We are in Mali and will certainly remain so in the months and years to come," Parly said.

However, she said it would be "very worrying" if there was an agreement between Mali's junta and Russian mercenaries.

"[This would be] contrary to everything we have been doing for years to support the countries in the Sahel," she said.

The Vagner Group has reportedly neared a deal to train the Malian military, which seized power in a coup in May, and provide protection for senior officials.

Western governments have accused Moscow of using the Vagner Group as a paramilitary force in conflicts in Ukraine, Libya, Syria, and the Central African Republic. The mercenaries have also been accused of carrying out human rights abuses, including by the UN in the Central African Republic.

Earlier this year, Washington described the Vagner Group as "mercenaries working as an arm of Russia's Defense Ministry."

Russia denies a link between the government and the Vagner Group, often describing the paramilitary force as trainers or advisers despite evidence they have been engaged in combat operations.

In response to the reports about Mali, Russia denied any official military involvement in the West African country.

“There are no representatives of the Russian Armed Forces there, and no official negotiations are being held,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 15.

The Vagner Group is believed to be run by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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