Mali has taken delivery of four helicopters, weapons and ammunition from Russia, military-led authorities in the West African country said.
To support its armed forces in their battle with fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, Mali acquired the aircraft in a contract agreed in December 2020 Malian Defence Minister, Sadio Camara, said late on Thursday.
“Mali bought these helicopters from the Russia Federation, a friendly country with which Mali has always maintained a very fruitful partnership,” he told local media on the tarmac after the plane landed in the capital, Bamako.
The delivery comes at a moment of tense relations between Mali and its key military partner France over reports from diplomatic and security sources that Mali’s military-dominated government is close to recruiting the controversial Wagner Group from Russia.
France which says it is in the process of reshaping its military mission in the region has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is incompatible with a continued French presence.
It has warned Mali that hiring Wagner fighters would isolate the country internationally.
France has deployed more than 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel region under its Barkhane mission.
Last week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Mali approached private Russian companies to boost security in the conflict-torn country, adding that the Kremlin was not involved.
Germany, which also has troops in Mali, says it will reconsider its deployment should the Malian government strike a deal with Wagner.