Hundreds of Russian military advisers have been deployed to Mali in recent weeks, according to members of the Malian army.
What do we know so far?
One member of the Malian armed forces told the French news agency AFP on Friday that as many as 400 Russian military personnel could be stationed in the West African country.
A Mali army spokesperson said Thursday that Russian soldiers were stationed in the northern city of Timbuktu to assist Malian forces.
Mali has been criticized for reportedly allowing mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group to operate on its territory. The mercenaries are seen as being backed by the Russian government and have been accused of carrying out human rights violations in other nations.
In December, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and several other countries condemned the suspected presence of Wagner mercenaries in the country. The issue is particularly sensitive for the French government, as France has roughly 5,000 troops deployed in the West African region.
Mali slams Wagner allegations
Mali has rebuked the allegations and denied that it works with the Wagner Group.
The Kremlin has also claimed that Wagner is not sponsored by the Russian government. Yet, the deployment of Russian military advisers in the country could help Moscow gain a foothold in the West African region.
An anonymous Malian elected official told AFP that both mercenaries and Russian troops are active in the country.
Mali has struggled with a jihadi insurgency over the past decade, which has also had an impact on neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The country is also reeling from political instability, with Mali having witnessed three military coups since 2012.
wd/sms (AFP, Reuters, epd)