Baerbock: "No cooperation with Russian actors" in Mali
April 15, 2022
Are western nations all withdrawing from the mission in Mali? And how to deal with Mali's growing ties to Russia? German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock addressed these questions on this week's trip there.
Landing in a military plane on the edge of the Sahara in Mali. A dangerous place. Bundeswehr soldiers check the surroundings. Only then do they open the doors for the German foreign minister and her delegation.
Annalena Baerbock's trip comes at a time when Germany must make a decision. In May, the Bundestag will vote: Should Germany maintain a military presence in the region plagued by climate change, famine and terrorism? Or should the soldiers leave now after many years and little progress?
Clear commitment to MINUSMA
France has decided to withdraw its troops, a big step for the former colonial power. The EU has ended the training mission for the Malian army. The reason: General Assimi Goita, head of the military junta that has Mali firmly in its grip after two coups in two years.
The regime has been accused of having no interest in returning to democracy. And Goita is deepening ties with Russia, a move being watched with great concern in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
These were tough questions for the foreign minister, whose first stop was Camp Castor, the German military base in the Gao region. From here, reconnaissance flights take off as part of the UN's Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA.
In conversation with the troops, Baerbock made it clear that she is committed to the United Nations mission. Germany may even have to take on more tasks after the withdrawal of its partners.
According to the Green foreign minister, there is now a "special responsibility for our country, for the many other countries involved in this mission, to work together to figure out how we can continue this important stabilization mission in the future."
Mali defends cooperation with Russia
But how to deal with the junta in Mali and its military ties to Russia? Baerbock made a clear appeal to her partners at the two-hour meeting with leaders at the presidential palace in the capital Bamako.
It is important "also to protect the civilian population in Mali," the foreign minister said during the following press conference, "that there is no cooperation with Russian actors here on the ground." She fears "massive war crimes" in Ukraine against the civilian population.
But Mali's foreign minister also found clear words: "We hope that Mali's partners will respect Mali's decisions," said Abdoulaye Diop. "Mali makes its decisions according to its own needs." After all, he said, Germany does the same. Mali negotiates its contracts with the Russian state, not with the controversial Wagner mercenaries.
After two days in Mali, the foreign minister then embarked on what was apparently the easier part of the trip, in the neighboring country of Niger. Soon after arriving in the capital Niamey, the chief diplomat headed to a university, where she discussed food safety and climate change with students and lecturers.
Among other things, the prospective academics hope for more support from Germany in technology for the agricultural sector and in the development of renewable energies, where Niger has enormous untapped potential.
Annalena Baerbock then went on to examine the consequences of climate change and deforestation in Ouallam, about 100 kilometers west of Niamey.
The foreign minister was accompanied on the trip by her climate envoy, Jennifer Morgan, among others.
In an interview with DW, Morgan said that the fight against climate change is also immensely important in preventing conflicts. Farmers who need water for their fields and animals "will come into conflict because one will have to move somewhere else where another group is already located."
In addition, she said those displaced by the effects of climate change are particularly vulnerable. "There is evidence that terrorist groups then recruit these vulnerable populations."
The already difficult situation in Africa is exacerbated by the consequences of Russia's attack on Ukraine, Baerbock said.
"I am here to make it clear: We see the impact that this war of aggression, which is against international law, is having on regions like the Sahel in terms of skyrocketing food prices."
There is a damaging confluence of food crisis, climate crisis and security problems in the region, she said.
Her message in Niger was clear: "We see you and we hear you — even if war is raging in the middle of Europe."
With assistance from Richard Walker in Bamako and Niamey.