Mali commissions military aircraft acquired from Russia

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Mali’s military leader has handed over nearly a dozen aircraft to the country’s air force after receiving them from Russia, which continues to forge close ties with the West African nation.

Transitional President Colonel Assimi Goita handed the aircraft over in the presence of Russian ambassador Igor Gromyko at President Modibo Keita International Airport on 19 January.

Amongst the aircraft on display were five L-39 jets (TZ-18C, TZ-19C, TZ-30C, TZ-32C, and TZ-35C), two Mi-8 helicopters (TZ-94H and TZ-95H), and a single Su-25 strike aircraft (TZ-25C).

Mali’s armed forces (FAMa) said the acquisitions would further contribute to the rise in power of the nation’s military. The L-39s and Su-25 will be used for attack, reconnaissance and border surveillance missions while the Mi-8s will be used to support the movement of troops on the ground.

The Air Force Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Aliou Boï Diarra, said that after decades of combat, Mali’s military has become better equipped and professional, with major advances over the past two years.

Defence Minister Colonel Sadio Camara said a strong and modern military is needed to impose security. He thanked and congratulated the “partners of Mali” who remained “faithful and loyal in difficult times”.

This was most likely in reference to Russia, which has formed a close relationship with Mali since the 2020 coup. It is believed that Wagner paramilitaries from Russia began arriving in Mali in late 2021.

Mali has been battered by an extremist campaign that began in the north of the country in 2012, with attacks spreading into Niger and Burkina Faso as well. As a result, Mali has turned to Russia to supply equipment and paramilitary forces to shore up its military.

January’s aircraft handover comes only months after Mali commissioned multiple aircraft acquired from Russia. On 9 August 2022, officials received one Su-25 jet, four L-39 jet trainers, an Mi-24P attack helicopter, an Mi-8 transport helicopter and a single Airbus C295 tactical transport aircraft. The C295 aircraft arrived on 31 May and is the second to be acquired, with the first delivered in December 2016. Two Mi-24Ps were delivered to Mali on 30 March 2022, along with Protivnik-GE/59N6-TE mobile radars from Russia. Mali also recently acquired four Mi-35s from Russia.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfers database, Mali in 2020 ordered four Mi-8MT/Mi-17Sh helicopters from Russia for $61 million including training and weapons, with deliveries from 2021. The Su-25s and L-39s appear to be new acquisitions as well.