The European Union agreed on Monday to draft a framework for possible sanctions on Russian mercenaries who could be deployed to West Africa's Sahel region, France's foreign minister said.
Reuters reported in September that Mali's military junta was in discussions about deploying Russia's Wagner Group in Mali, which France says is not acceptable because it has its own troops in the region.
"There's a common will to decide a legal framework for sanctions that will be put on the Wagner Group," Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on the margins of an EU foreign ministers meeting that discussed Mali.
Le Drian said any sanctions would also be imposed on any companies working with the Wagner Group.
French officials say the junta is turning to Wagner as part of efforts to cling to power beyond a transition period due to end after the Feb. 27 presidential and legislative elections.
Relations between France and its former colony have soured over Wagner and since Paris said in June it would reshape its 5,000-strong counterterrorism mission in the region.
Mali's prime minister has accused Paris of abandoning Bamako. The West African country is a former French colony. Reuters has been unable to reach the Wagner Group for comment.
Over a dozen people with ties to the Wagner Group have previously told Reuters it has carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine, Libya and Syria. Russian authorities deny Wagner contractors carry out their orders.