MOSCOW: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said today that Russia will continue helping Mali improve its military capabilities, a partnership that has prompted Western concern.
Lavrov was speaking during a visit to the West African country where militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have waged a decade-long insurgency that has spread to neighbouring countries.
Western governments are worried about the involvement in Mali of Russian private military contractor Wagner, which is also fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine.
United Nations experts last week called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by Malian government forces and Wagner.
Mali, whose government took power in a 2021 military coup, have previously said Russian forces there are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said last year that the Russian state had nothing to do with Russian military contractors working in Mali, adding that the African country had the right to work with private Russian firms.
Russian news agency RIA quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow hoped to start delivering wheat, fertilisers and oil products to Mali soon.
Lavrov has visited a series of African countries recently as Moscow, hit by Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, seeks to deep trade ties and strategic partnerships elsewhere.