Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop on Thursday denied that his government had signed a contract with a Russian private military contractor (PMC).
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, following a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Diop said the information about the contract with a Russian PMC is part of a campaign against Mali.
"We have already communicated directly with our French colleagues on this issue. I confirmed that no contract has been signed,” Diop said and added, “This story is part of a blackening campaign against Mali."
Mali's primary concern is the security of its territory and people, and the government will take whatever steps it considers appropriate in this regard, the minister added.
"Any state protects its interests. Why should Mali protect the interests of another country? We protect the interests of our population. We are not concerned about cooperation with PMCs… we are concerned about how to ensure the security of our territory, our residents," he said.
Diop added that Mali does not question France's decision to reduce its military presence in the north of the country, however, the security situation is extremely difficult and demands uniting efforts to ensure the safety of the country and its people once the French troops leave.
For his part, Lavrov said the issue of hiring a PMC for protection purposes lies entirely within the exclusive authority of Mali’s legitimate government.
He stressed that the Russian authorities have nothing to do with the activities of "any such structures" created by Russian citizens, pointing out that they sign contracts independently.
"If these contracts are concluded with legitimate governments of sovereign states, I do not understand what can be seen as negative here," he said.
Russia as a state has a long history of military cooperation with Mali, and it continues deliveries of arms, ammunition, and equipment to the African country so that its government can effectively combat the terrorist threats.
"This threat persists, and it may worsen, given the decision taken by the French government to significantly reduce its presence, its Operation Barkhane, primarily in the north, where terrorists feel more and more at ease. And we will continue to provide all possible support to the armed forces of Mali through the state line, both by supplying military products and training Malian officers in higher educational institutions of our Ministry of Defense," he said.
Lavrov pointed out that the market for private military contractors has been created by the Western countries, and that the US, UK, and France are leaders in terms of the number of such companies. Therefore, the attempts to smear Russia's reputation by accusing it of having PMCs are not relevant, he said.