French Minister Ms Parly warned that "we will not be able to cohabit with mercenaries". She later accused the Malian prime minister of "hypocrisy, bad faith and indecency" after he said his administration was not consulted on the drawdown of the French mission, Operation Barkhane.
Germany and Estonia, whose forces serve under a Mali-based European force called Takuba, have also threatened to pull out their soldiers.
The West African regional bloc Ecowas strongly denounced the plan to hire private security companies. Cherif Mahamat Zene, the foreign minister of Chad, which has played a vital role in fighting Islamist groups across West Africa, said the rebels who killed former President Idriss Deby in April were trained by the Wagner group and warned against their intervention.
Russian helicopters arrive
In the face of rising public anger against France, the choice of Russia has been easy. Mali and Russia have maintained close ties in recent years, especially since 1994 when they signed a defence cooperation agreement which was revised in 2019.
Defence Minister Sadio Camara and some leading members of Mali's junta were trained in Russia.
On Thursday, he welcomed the arrival of four military helicopters from Russia, which he described as "a friendly country with which Mali has always maintained a very fruitful partnership". He said this was part of a deal agreed in December 2020 - long before the French drawdown was announced.
The Russian involvement could also be a convenient excuse for Mali's interim government to extend its term in office, following the military takeover in May.