Mali and Russia strengthen defence ties


In June 2019 Russia and Mali signed a military cooperationagreement, which was inked by General Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele and his Russian counterpart, SergueiChoigou. The bilateral agreement covers thesale and maintenance of two Mi-35 helicopters, an arrangement which will contribute to reinforcing Bamako’s fleet of similar aircraft.

A new Mi-35M, in desert camouflage, destined for Mali’s Air Force, was seen at Rostvertol’s facilities at Rostov on Don on 3 June 2019. Mali received two Mi-35Ms in 2017, after ordering four of the helicopters in 2016, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

It seems that the Kremlin aims to tighten its relations with the Africancontinent by different means, and arms sales as well as with militarysupport are two of them. In a declaration made in front of a panel ofAfrican leaders this past October in Sochi, Wladimir Putin stated “Weare capable of doubling our commercial exchange rates in the years tocome”. Such an announcement was quickly followed by a concrete step as staff from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner (reportedlylinked to the Kremlin) were recently seen on Bamako’s streets. AndRussian Defence minister Sergei Choigou was quoted by French radioFranceInfo as saying: “The military cooperation serves the interests ofboth countries. Russia is ready to normalize Mali’s situation in order tocreate conditions for a durable peace”.

The relations between Moscow and Bamako aren’t new since theUSSR actively participated in the armament of the Malian army rightafter it took its independence from France in 1961. On top of small armsand munitions, Moscow also supplied medium tanks, armoured personnelcarriers and artillery. They also equipped the National Air Force withAntonov AN-2 Colt, MiG-21 and Mi-4 aircraft.

Beyond military sales, both countries succeeded in developingdiplomatic and commercial relations as well. According to Russianembassy figures, the USSR invested locally around $570million since the end of the 1960s. Russia claims to have helpedMaliangovernments in building public infrastructure such as Gao’s airport,Bamako’s stadium (with a capacity of 20000), or the Gabriel Touré’shospital. Economically speaking Russian companies brought theircontribution to develop a cement plant, the auriferous industry “Kalana”and various technical centres, while Russian specialists carried out prospection and geological mapping hence enabling 9000 ha of land togrow plantations, especially rice.

However, after the USSR’s implosion in the early 1990s, relationsbetween both states slacked and even stopped for almost a decade. Talks really resumed in 2009 when Malian foreign ministry, M. Ouane, travelled to Moscow. After having reawakened the diplomatic flame, he signed multiple contracts especially related to visas and mutual agreements to reinforce the global fight against terrorism and money laundering. Both nations are currently working on diverse programmes related to science and culture. Taking in account that 2020 would be the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two states, Bamako seeks to open a Russian cultural centre to better highlight “Russian values and folklore”. Today, 158 Russian citizens are permanently residing in Mali and the majority of them contribute tofurther diplomatic relations. Economically speaking, trade between bothnations is low. Moscow even erased Bamako’s debt of $124 million in 2003but the country still has interesting potential especially in the goldmining sector, the transportation segment, hydraulic and energy development. This also the opportunity to interact with challengers suchas European countries involved in anti-terror operations as well asChina’s growing ambitions on the continent.

Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.