The Russian private paramilitary company Wagner is present in Mali and Libya on a "commercial basis", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.
In an interview with Italian television Mediaset, Lavrov reiterated Moscow's position that Wagner "has nothing to do with the Russian state".
Wagner, which is reputedly close to President Vladimir Putin, is accused of employing mercenaries who have committed abuses in Mali, Libya and Syria.
According to him, Moscow gave explanations to France about this when the French government "became nervous because Wagner signed an agreement with the government of Mali for the provision of security services".
"My dear colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as (EU diplomacy chief) Josep Borrell, in September 2021, told me directly that Russia had nothing to do in Africa, neither by the state means nor by private means, because Africa is an area (of interest) of the EU and France," Sergei Lavrov said.
"We also explained" that in Libya, "this private military company was invited by the authorities in Tobruk, where the parliament is located," he added. "They are present there on a commercial basis, as well as in Mali," the Russian diplomat said.
The government in Bamako, which emerged from a military coup, refers to the presence on its territory of simple Russian advisers.
Between "10,000 and 20,000" mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary company Wagner or Syrian and Libyan fighters are currently fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, according to a European official.