We have had constructive and in-depth talks on our bilateral cooperation, which is based on our historical legacy, including the traditions of combating colonialism and overcoming colonial dependence and the subsequent recurrences of neo-colonialism in Africa. Regrettably, they have not yet become a thing of the past.
We talked about the need to build up our political dialogue, which is developing quite successfully. Our discussion focused on trade, economic and investment cooperation, which has been growing sustainably for the past three years. But the current figure is below our potential. It is approaching $100 million, which is obviously not the limit.
Today we discussed the most promising areas for cooperation between our ministries and businesses, including energy, geological exploration, mining, internet technologies and agriculture. The Association of Economic Cooperation with African Countries has developed good relations with its counterparts. It was established after the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in 2019. The association is working actively with Russian companies to attract new members. Russian representatives visited Mali last year, where they met with their partners to discuss the practical aspects of launching joint projects.
We were delighted to welcome a Malian delegation, which was led by the Minister of Energy and Water Resources, who took part in Russian Energy Week last month. He also met with representatives of Russian companies RusHydro, Power Machines and Rosgeo’s geological survey subsidiary. This allows us to coordinate major mutually beneficial agreements.
We reaffirmed our commitment to further develop our long-standing military-technical cooperation and military ties. Several agreements to this effect have been signed in recent years. We will fulfil them, including by supporting the Malian government’s efforts to ensure the country’s defence capabilities, which is especially relevant in the face of the persisting terrorist threat.
We are also promoting ties in education and culture. Several hundred students from Mali study in Russia. Over the years, Soviet and Russian universities have provided educations for over 10,000 Malian specialists. We agreed to increase the number of grants for studying at Russian universities, and to continue to train Malian military personnel and law enforcement officers.
I mentioned the Russia-Africa Summit that took place in 2019. Together with our African friends, we are preparing a second summit, which is scheduled for next year.
The Foreign Minister of Mali updated me on the developments in Mali, the progress in the implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement, and preparations for a general election in view of the situation on the ground. The fact that terrorist groups have been increasingly active, especially in the north of the country, does not offer a favourable environment for launching an election campaign. Mr Diop said the Malian government will determine the timeline for the election campaign before the end of the year.
We do understand the need to reinforce Mali’s counter-terrorism potential. In this connection, the Russian state supplies the necessary equipment, weapons and ammunition. We will do everything we can to prevent any threat to Mali’s statehood and territorial integrity. The risk of a power vacuum in the country’s north should not be allowed to materialise in the wake of the decision by our French colleagues to withdraw part of their troops from Mali and close three of the five military bases in regions with the most active terrorist groups.
We will support Mali in the UN Security Council on question of conflict settlement in Africa. This is a matter of principle for us, and our unwavering commitment. Africans must take ownership of finding solutions to the problems they face, while the international community must support them in these efforts. It is along these lines that we discussed developments in other parts of the African continent, including in West Africa, the Sahara-Sahel region, and in Guinea, Libya and Sudan. There are many challenges. We will strive to resolve all of them within the UN Security Council based on the principles set forth in the UN Charter, including non-interference in domestic affairs, the need to settle disputes by peaceful means, and respect for the right of every country to determine its development path on its own.
Minister Diop invited me to visit Mali, and it gives me great pleasure to accept this invitation. We will agree on the time and agenda of this visit separately.
Question: Although you made it clear at a news conference in New York that Russia and Mali do not have a state agreement on military aid, cooperation between the Malian authorities and Russian private military companies continues to be a source of concern for the European Union, especially France. The propagation of this subject by the Western media continues to harm Russia’s image. What is your attitude towards this?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the extensive coverage by the Western media of relations between the government of Mali and its foreign partners, including Russia, I would like to say the following: Russia has a long history of military and military-technical cooperation with Mali. These traditions continue by supplying the Mali government and armed forces with equipment, ammunition and arms for effective actions against the terrorist threat. This threat exists and could become more acute following the decision of the French government to considerably reduce its military presence in Mali (Operation Barkhane), especially in the north of the country where terrorists feel increasingly relaxed.
We will continue providing general support to the armed forces of Mali through government channels by supplying them with military products and training Malian officers in the educational institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry.
As for the nervous reaction of the French and some other Western representatives to Mali’s plans to work with a private military company from Russia in the past few months (something the Prime Minister of Mali spoke openly about at the UN General Assembly session), this question is exclusively within the competence of the lawful Malian government.
As for private military companies established by Russian nationals, we have nothing to do with this. If they sign agreements with the lawful governments of sovereign states, I don’t see anything negative in this.
Western countries created and developed a market for services provided by such companies on military cooperation, armed guard, security a long time ago. The United States is the leader in this market (tens of thousands of people in all parts of the world), followed by Britain as well as France that has about a dozen of private military companies that provide diverse services in different parts of the world – not only in Africa but also much closer to Russian territory.
I don’t think that “uncovering” and promoting this made-up subject is harming Russia’s image. Instead, it only reflects on the image and reputation of those who do it. This reputation stems from the feeling of one’s own superiority and impunity, where those who call themselves “established” or “mature” democracies think they can do whatever they want in any part of the world. They consider others to be second-rate partners and assume the right to lecture them. This is very different from the democracy that was born, in part, on the territory of the French Republic.
Question: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France plans to raise questions about Russia’s alarming activity in Western Africa, and the situation in Ukraine in the 2+2 format meeting scheduled for tomorrow. What is your attitude towards this?
Sergey Lavrov: Any questions can be raised at this meeting. We have coordinated the agenda. France has warned us that it will raise questions about Ukraine. I interpret this as an understanding by our French colleagues that they will not be able to avoid responsibility, either tomorrow or in general, for the actions of their mentees in Kiev (I refer to the Vladimir Zelensky regime). Ignoring all advice on the need to fulfil the Minsk agreements, to which there is no alternative, these mentees are openly and stubbornly undermining them with the tacit connivance of the French and German co-authors of the Minsk Package of Measures.
We will have a serious conversation on this issue. When our French colleagues said Russia refused to meet in the Normandy format at the foreign minister level on November 11, we explained to them our position in detail on paper.
But aside from that, we are not used to hearing such statements from the French Foreign Ministry. We do not expect such manners from our French colleagues. Moreover, when I met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on the sidelines of the G20 summit two weeks ago, he mentioned this proposal to meet in Paris on November 11 (when I heard it for the first time). I told him then that, in addition to the substance of the matter which would require more work, I could not meet on November 11 because on that particular date I had a scheduled meeting with a colleague, the foreign minister of a friendly country. If this argument is not enough, I will repeat that we need to restore the manners that are accepted in diplomacy and normal human communication.
Question: Some Polish officials have suggested that the Russian airline Aeroflot is involved in the migration crisis on the Poland-Belarus border. Can you comment on such statements?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking strictly in diplomatic language, I will call such statements “untrue.” Aeroflot does not have flights between the capitals of the countries from which refugees are flooding Europe, after Europe and the US destroyed these countries through bombing. Aeroflot does not fly from these capitals to the capital of the Republic of Belarus.