Germany warns Mali's military rulers a deal with the notorious Wagner group would "call into question" its deployment in the West African country as part of UN and EU missions.
Germany has joined France in expressing concern about an agreement between Mali's military rulers and a Russian security company that would bring Russian mercenaries into the African country.
Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters news agency that mercenaries hired by the Wagner Group would train the Malian military and provide protection for senior officials. The deal is close to being agreed on, they said,
"If Mali's government makes such a deal with Russia, then it goes against everything that Germany, France, the EU and the UN have been doing in Mali over the last eight years," wrote Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Twitter on Wednesday.
"We find this extremely worrying," a German Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.
France's foreign minister on Tuesday criticised the plans, saying such a move was "incompatible" with the French military presence in its former colony.
France is worried the arrival of Russian mercenaries would undermine its decade-old "counterterrorism" operation against Al Qaeda and Daesh-linked insurgents in the Sahel region of West Africa just as it begins to scale down its 5,000-strong mission there and reshape it with more European allies, the diplomatic sources said.
A spokesperson for the German Defence Ministry said the issue would be discussed with European and international partners and, if necessary, consequences would be discussed.
Asked about a possible halt to cooperation with the junta government in Mali, which seized power in a coup in May, the spokesperson said only that the German armed forces were active in Mali on the basis of two foreign deployment mandates.
'We haven't signed anything with Wagner'
A spokesperson for the Malian Defence Ministry has not denied the discussions with Russians.
"Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country," the spokesperson told the AFP news agency.
"We haven't signed anything with Wagner, but we are talking with everyone."
In recent years, Russian paramilitaries, security instructors, companies, and advisors have grown increasingly influential in Africa, particularly in the war-torn Central African Republic.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday there were no formal discussions on military cooperation with Mali.