PARIS (Reuters) – France’s foreign and armed forces ministers will stress their governments concern over the Kremlin’s activities in West Africa when they meet their Russian counterparts in Paris on Friday.
Relations have been strained over ongoing differences over Ukraine and more recently over the role of Russian mercenaries in West Africa, where France has thousands of troops fighting Islamist militants.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said the mercenaries are working at the behest of Moscow.
“This meeting will discuss the political and military dimensions of regional and international crises, in particular with regard to the situations in Ukraine and in the Sahel-Saharan strip in which France will express its concerns about Russia’s actions,” a joint statement by the French foreign and armed forces ministries said.
Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali’s year-old military junta is close to recruiting mercenaries from the Russia Wagner Group.
France has mounted a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is incompatible with a continued French presence in its former colony.
France postponed a visit to Moscow in Sept. 2020 by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers sought answers from Russia to Germany’s findings that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned.
Those had been scheduled as the first joint strategic talks since 2018 and was part of French efforts to reduce distrust between Russia and the West, hoping to enlist Russian help in solving the world’s most intractable crises.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Angus MacSwan)