“We will now plan additional steps in the field of education through military higher education institutions and in the supply of arms and military equipment,” said Lavrov, who declined to go into details.
Lavrov’s trip to Bamako, Mali’s capital, comes as Western countries raise concerns about alleged human rights abuses by Russian mercenaries working for the private military contractor Wagner Group.
Russia’s foreign minister did not name Wagner at a press conference, but criticized unnamed Western powers of “neo-colonial approaches and double standards”.
“We see the reaction of the Western states to 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 parity and mutual respect,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s presence in Mali has expanded as the role of former colonizer France has diminished. After nine years of helping Mali’s army contain the spread of Islamist insurgents, France withdrew its troops last year after relations with the ruling junta deteriorated.
Colonel Assimi Goita seized power in a 2020 coup and disappointed international partners when he failed to hold elections within the timeframe he had originally agreed to. When French support waned, Goita enlisted Moscow’s help.
Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop on Tuesday again defended the government’s cooperation with Russia, saying cooperation with France “does not correspond to Malians’ objectives”.
“We are not going to keep justifying our choice of partner,” Diop said. “This decision is a decision of the Malians and a decision taken with full responsibility. And Mali wants to cooperate with Russia.”
Independent human rights experts working with the UN have called for an investigation into possible crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government forces in Mali and the Wagner Group, which is owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president.
The Pentagon has described the Wagner Group as a surrogate for the Russian Defense Ministry. The Kremlin denies any connection.
Western officials say hundreds of Wagner Group fighters began collaborating with Mali’s armed forces more than a year ago to try to stop a decade-long insurgency by Islamist extremists in the West African country.
Diplomats, analysts and human rights groups say indiscriminate violence against civilians has increased since the mercenaries arrived, warning that extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have only gotten stronger.
However, Mali’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that it should be the Malian authorities, not outsiders, who review reports of human rights violations.
“Human rights groups must stop being tools used by those who want to destabilize Mali,” Diop said, adding that “we are accused of human rights violations, often by terrorists in disguise themselves.”
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.