There is no connection between Moscow and Wagner group mercenaries active in Mali, said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, addressing a cause of concern among European governments involved in training missions in the West African country.
"As far as Wagner is concerned, I have already said that the Russian state has nothing to do with it," Putin said after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow.
Tensions between France and the military-dominated interim government in Mali have increased recently, with one Paris minister accusing the Malian leaders of having brought mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group into the country to shore up their power.
That has triggered wider fears in the West that Mali's leadership is leaning towards Russia, and criticism of the Russian mercenaries active in the country.
Germany has also expressed concern. Both France and Germany have military personnel on the ground in Mali working to combat terrorism as part of the EUTM and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.
However, Putin argued that, under NATO's logic, states like Mali could choose for themselves who would take care of their security.
Of the presence of mercenary companies in Mali, he said: "They negotiate there themselves, the local rulers invite them at state level and thank them for the work they do. But the Russian state has no share here at all." The companies were pursuing commercial interests, he said.
"The Russian government, the Russian state has nothing in common with these companies working in Mali."
Recently, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the Bundeswehr mission in Mali into question, due to the rising tensions with the military junta there.
She said that security for the people of Mali and stability and development could only be achieved through reforms and a return to democracy.
Mali has seen three military coups since 2012 and is highly unstable, even by the region's standards, with Islamic militants having carried out attacks for years.