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Germany's Baerbock visits Mali

April 12, 2022

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Mali at the start of a tour of West Africa. The trip comes as the EU ends its Mali training mission due to the activities of Russian mercenaries.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at Camp Castor in Gao, Mali
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited the base Camp Castor in Gao, MaliImage: Florian Gaertner/photothek/picture alliance

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Mali in early Tuesday morning, hours after the European Union said it would halt its mission training troops there.

Germany has some 1,100 soldiers in the country as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation, as well as some 300 dedicated to the EU military training mission (EUTM Mali) there.

Baerbock said Germany's military operations in Mali were "enormously important," adding that the mission was a "great challenge" for the Bundeswehr. 

Berlin is deciding on whether to keep its soldiers in the country as concerns mount about operations involving Russian private mercenary firm the Wagner Group and Mali's post-coup military government. 

Annalena Baerbock on board a government A400M plane, set to fly to Mali. April 11, 2022.
Much of Baerbock's first few months in office has been dominated by the conflict in UkraineImage: picture alliance/dpa

Why is the visit taking place?

Baerbock's visit comes ahead of an upcoming decision by Berlin about whether Bundeswehr troops should remain in Mali.

While in the country, she met the military government, civil society representatives, and members of the German military forces.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said the aim of the mission was to "get a precise picture of the political and security situation on the ground."

The results of the talks are expected to feed into the German government's upcoming decision on whether to keep troops there.

Malians suffer under strain of economic sanctions

What has been happening in Mali?

Baerbock's arrival came only hours after the EU said it would halt its military training missions in Mali while maintaining a presence in the Sahel.

The bloc said it had not received sufficient guarantees that Russia's Wagner Group would not interfere with its work.

The EU has voiced concern at reports that the Wagner Group joined Malian soldiers in an operation last month in the village of Moura. More than 200 civilians were killed.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht visited German troops stationed in Mali at the weekend and spoke of "atrocities" in Moura.

The trip is also taking place as the region struggles a massive rise in food prices exacerbated by Russia's war on Ukraine.

Even before Mali's military government brought in the Wagner Group, there were tensions with the EU about it seizing power in a coup and dragging its feet on ushering in fresh elections.

Baerbock with members of Germany's armed forces in Gao
Baerbock met with members of Germany's armed forces in GaoImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

What is Germany saying?

Ahead of the trip, the German foreign minister had underlined Berlin's dissatisfaction with the military junta in Bamako.

"The Bamako government has lost the confidence of the international community in recent months, notably by holding back democratic transition and by intensifying military cooperation with Moscow," Baerbock said in a statement before her departure.

"In this context we shall have to question a new German commitment in the Sahel region," she added. "To simply say 'keep it up' now would be misguided in my view."

Baerbock said Germany could only continue its engagement if the "framework conditions" were correct.

She said there were several requirements for the Bundeswehr to stay, citing "reliability in cooperation as well as a resolute fight against terror and violence and adherence to fundamental principles of the rule of law."

Mali seeks closer ties with Russia

jcg, rc/msh (dpa, AFP)