Mali’s ruling junta on Monday announced the delivery of two more combat helicopters and surveillance radars from Russia as the West African nation tackles a bloody jihadist insurgency.
Photographs of the equipment being unloaded from a Russian cargo flight at Bamako international airport were posted on the official Twitter account of Mali’s presidency.
The posting described the gear as “Mi-24P helicopters, fourth-generation radars, and other combat equipment.”
Army chief of staff General Oumar Diarra said in a statement the delivery was “a sign of a very fruitful partnership with the Russian state.”
The consignment brings to eight the known number of helicopters that Moscow has provided under closer ties forged by colonels who seized power in 2020.
A source in the defense ministry said four similar deliveries were expected over the next three months.
Russia has also supplied what are officially described as military instructors — personnel that former colonial power France and the United States say are operatives from Russia’s Wagner security group.
They have been helping the impoverished Sahel nation fight a decade-old jihadist campaign that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Mali’s rapprochement with the Kremlin has prompted French forces and their European allies to announce their exit from the country.
Visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned in Bamako last Wednesday that European forces would not cooperate with Mali’s military while it maintains such links with Russia.
There have been allegations that Malian troops, in coordination with foreign fighters, massacred hundreds of civilians in late March.
The army-dominated government regularly defends the rights record of its military and has also repeatedly denied hiring Wagner operatives.
The previous Russian consignment arrived on March 31 and was seen by an AFP journalist at Bamako airport.
It comprised two Mil Mi35P attack helicopters — an export version of the Mi-24P — as well as 59N6-TE mobile radar systems, according to the specialist newsletter Africa intelligence.
It said the consignment had been ordered under former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was toppled in August 2020 by army officers led by Colonel Assimi Goita.
The helicopters had been purchased under a 2019 bilateral agreement in which the Kremlin agreed to provide helicopters at a far lower price than that proposed by the European aircraft maker Airbus, the newsletter said.
But the source at the defense ministry, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, denied the report.
“The helicopters that were delivered two weeks ago were (not) orders that were made by the IBK regime,” the source said, referring to the ousted president by his initials. “We don’t acknowledge orders made by another government.”
The first batch of military helicopters from Russia comprised four aircraft that were delivered in October last year.
Mali described them at the time as Mi-171 choppers, a model used for troop transport, and said they had been ordered under a contract “signed in December 2020 (and which) took effect in June 2021.”
On April 12, the United Nations and the British defense ministry said a Malian army helicopter fired several rockets close to British troops serving in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
There were no casualties and the incident is being investigated, the defense ministry in London said.
According to a diplomatic document seen by AFP, the Malian helicopter fired six rockets.
The document said almost all Malian helicopters are flown by Russians assisted by Malian co-pilots.