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Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a joint press-conference with Bolivian Foreign Minister Celinda Sosa Lunda in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 26, 2024. Russia’s foreign minister says any French military instructors in Ukraine would be “a legitimate target” for Russian armed forces. Sergey Lavrov spoke during his latest tour of Africa, where growing frustration with traditional Western allies has swayed several countries towards Moscow.

Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a joint press-conference with Bolivian Foreign Minister Celinda Sosa Lunda in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 26, 2024. Russia’s foreign minister says any French military instructors in Ukraine would be “a legitimate target” for Russian armed forces. Sergey Lavrov spoke during his latest tour of Africa, where growing frustration with traditional Western allies has swayed several countries towards Moscow. (Yury Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

OYO, Republic of Congo — Any French military instructors in Ukraine would be a “legitimate target” for Russian armed forces, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday during a tour of Africa, where frustration with the West has swayed several countries toward Moscow.

Lavrov made the remarks at joint news conference with the Republic of Congo’s Foreign Minister Jean Claude Gakosso.

“As for the French instructors, I think they are already on the Ukrainian territory,” Lavrov said, referring to the military instructors that France could send to train Ukrainian troops. “Regardless of their status, military officials or mercenaries represent a legitimate target for our armed forces.”

Ukraine’s top commander said last week he had signed paperwork allowing French military instructors to access Ukrainian training centers soon. But French President Emmanuel Macron said last week he would not comment on “rumors or decisions that could be made.” He said he would elaborate on France’s support during the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day later this week.

Macron’s office said it would not comment on Lavrov’s remarks. Also Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that “instructors who train the Kyiv regime’s troops don’t have any sort of immunity, and it doesn’t matter whether they are French or not.”

Lavrov has visited the African continent several times in the past few years as Russia seeks to shore up support amid Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A number of African countries in recent years have expressed growing frustration with their traditional Western partners like France and the United States. Some of them have instead turned to Russia to seek help in fighting Islamic insurgencies.

Lavrov on Tuesday also dismissed the Ukraine peace conference due to take place later this month in Switzerland. Russia was not invited.

“This conference in Switzerland has no meaning,” he said. “The only meaning it can have is to try to preserve this anti-Russian bloc which is in the process of crumbling.”

Republic of Congo was the second stop in Lavrov’s tour. He visited Guinea on Monday and met with the foreign minister.

It was not clear which other African countries might be on Lavrov’s itinerary.

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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