Russia and the African front

(To Antonino Lombardi)

The first visit of the Russian foreign minister to Mali took place on 7 February. Sergey Lavrov met his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop and President Assimi Goita in Bamako. They discussed the two countries' economic relations and the need for development, security and the fight against terrorism.

The Russian minister announced that, in recent months, Russia has delivered a large quantity of aeronautical equipment to Mali, increasing considerably the ability of Malian forces to fight Islamic extremism. "Now we will plan further steps in the field of education through military higher education institutions and in the field of supplies of weapons and military equipment"1, he has declared.

The drastic depletion of French influence in Mali, also due to the withdrawal of his troops, caused Colonel Assimi Goita to seek support elsewhere.

Lavrov did not fail to strike the West accusing it of "neocolonial approaches": "We see the reaction of Western states on the evolution of our relations and we see with regret that it is again negative, a negative attitude of the West towards the principles of equality and mutual respect"1.

Abdoulaye Diop has once again defended the government's cooperation with Russia, saying that cooperation with France "does not meet the Malians' goals". "We will not continue to justify our choice of partner. This decision is a decision of the Malians and a decision that is taken with full responsibility and Mali wants to work with Russia"1.

Violence against civilians has grown since the arrival of militants from the Wagner group and that extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have only gotten stronger. Human rights experts and the United Nations have called for an investigation into possible abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government forces in Mali and Wagner.

However, Mali's foreign minister said it should be the Malian authorities and not outsiders who evaluate reports of human rights abuses and that they are "accused of human rights violations often by masked terrorists".

The Russians promise armaments and security but, as Lavorov himself stated, efforts “are showing promise in the development of mineral deposits, geological exploration, energy, transportation and other infrastructure, as well as agriculture". He also promised Bamako grain, energy and fertilizers and petroleum products. Not only, in 2023 Russia will increase the number of scholarships for students from Mali eightfold: from 35 to 290.

In recent weeks, the Bamako authorities have expelled the French ambassador Joel Meyer.

On Sunday, Mali's foreign affairs and international cooperation minister said he had declared Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali, director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), "persona non grata". "2. The decision came after a speech by a Malian human rights defender who denounced the security situation in the country and the involvement of the Wagner group in serious violations to the UN a couple of weeks ago.

Also in July last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali had given Olivier Salgado, spokesman of MINUSMA, 72 hours to leave the national territory. In that case, the ministry had explained that the decision had been taken following a series of biased and unacceptable publications on Twitter by Salgado and for having declared "without any evidence that the Malian authorities would have been previously informed of the arrival of the 49 Ivorian soldiers with civilian flight at President Modibo Keita International Airport on July 10, 2022"3.

1 reuters

2 aljazeera

3 tell report

Photo: the ministry of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation