Russia has nothing to do with military contractors working in Mali, President Putin says while visiting French President Macron refuses to make a statement on Putin's assertion despite opposing mercenary activity in the West African country.

Putin says there were no complaints from Mali over the Russian military contractors' activity in the African country.
Putin says there were no complaints from Mali over the Russian military contractors' activity in the African country. (Reuters)

President Vladimir Putin has said the Russian state has nothing to do with Russian military contractors working in Mali.

Putin, speaking at a news conference after talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday, said the African country had the right to work with private Russian firms.

Putin said there were no complaints from Mali over the Russian military contractors' activity in the country. 

France is strongly opposed to mercenary activity there.

Macron, asked about an assertion from Putin that the Kremlin has nothing to do with Russian military contractors in Mali, said: "The president's answer was clear."

But the French leader, speaking after talks with Putin in Moscow that focussed on the Ukraine crisis, did not say if he believed the Russian leader's assertion about the contractors.

READ MORE: Mali rejects claims of Russian mercenaries' deployment

Wagner involvement

The United States and the European Union have stepped up pressure against the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which has been accused of abuses in the CAR and Libya and has reportedly discussed a major contract with Mali.

The group is a shadowy military unit of private fighters that has been linked to the Kremlin's wars in Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East.

Reports of Wagner's existence emerged at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, which was sparked in 2014 and spurred allegations the Kremlin was backing a separatist insurrection in the east of the country.

The group later reappeared in Syria, where it bolstered the embattled regime of President Bashar al Assad and was accused by Russian media of torturing detainees and securing oil assets.

Wagner fighters have since resurfaced in politically volatile African countries like Mali, the Central African Republic as military "instructors" and Libya, where they are propping up the rival administration of strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Apart from buttressing official Russian military operations, as in Syria, Wagner is reported to have also played the traditional role of a private security company elsewhere.

Most recently, Western nations have condemned the alleged arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali's capital Bamako, a claim denied by the junta that seized power in 2020.

As relations with France worsen, the military rulers may be looking for ways to make up for shrinking numbers of European troops fighting Mali's years-old militant insurgency.

READ MORE: Western powers slam 'deployment' of Russian Wagner mercenaries in Mali

Source: Reuters