Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the future of contracts signed between various African countries and the Wagner mercenary group was a matter for those governments who had concluded such agreements.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Lavrov said Wagner had worked in the Central African Republic (CAR) and other countries on the basis of contracts drawn up directly with the governments concerned.
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He also said Russia’s defence ministry had long had “several hundred” military advisers working in the CAR.
Wagner mercenaries, who have been heavily involved in the Ukraine conflict, staged a brief mutiny last Saturday, taking control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and marching on Moscow before a deal abruptly ended their revolt.
The incident has led to speculation about the status of Wagner operatives in CAR and elsewhere in Africa as well as Moscow’s level of involvement with the group’s activity on the continent.
On Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Wagner was “fully financed” by the state, adding that around 86 billion rubles (approximately $940 million) was paid to the group between May 2022 – May 2023.
Mali, where military authorities seized power in coups in 2020 and 2021, is battling a years-long operation against armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. It has said that Russian forces there are not Wagner mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
The mercenaries have been blamed for human rights abuses including most notably an incident in March 2022 in Moura in central Mali, where local troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly killed hundreds of civilians.
In nearby Mauritania, thousands of Malians have fled to the M’bera refugee camp since 2021, according to United Nations officials running the camp. Almost 7,000 new arrivals were recorded between March – April 2022 alone.
In February, French President Emmanuel Macron described the deployment of Wagner troops in Africa as the “life insurance of failing regimes in Africa” that will only sow misery.