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American soldiers asked to leave Niger, where Russia is advancing its pawns

Photo: Sam Mednick Archives Associated Press During the coup d'état in Niger last summer, many Russian flags could be seen in demonstrations in support of the military junta.

France Media Agency in Paris

March 20, 2024

  • Africa

Russia is advancing its pawns in Niger, where the military junta on Saturday judged the American presence “illegal”, the latest episode in Western strategic downgrading in the Sahel to the benefit of Moscow in particular.

The Wagner group will soon become history: the private military company of Yevgeny Prigozhin, killed in August in a mysterious plane crash, has been reorganized within the new avatar of Russian influence in Africa, Africa Corps.

And this recorded a strategic success at the end of last week, when the generals in power in Niamey denounced “with immediate effect” military cooperation with the United States, in force since 2012.

“A form of agreement is in sight” between Niamey and Moscow, estimates Christopher Faulkner, professor at the American Naval War College. “Russia has been working toward a closer military relationship in Niger since the July 2023 coup.”

The Niamey regime reoriented its foreign policy, starting by denouncing military cooperation agreements with France, until then an unwavering ally. The last French soldiers left the country at the end of December.

Two months later, Niamey by decree excluded military spending from any budgetary control. A way of giving the army free rein, believes Christopher Faulkner. “This increases the opportunities to make agreements with Russia that are more difficult to verify. »

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Geopolitical trend

Several sources told AFP of possible debates in Niamey, until recently, on the relevance of an alliance with Moscow. But it would be part of a heavy geopolitical trend.

Russians are already deployed in Mali, following an agreement concluded between the military regime in Bamako and the Wagner group.

And neighboring Burkina Faso, also led by officers, recently admitted Russian support “in terms of training on the logistics aspect, tactical training”. Noting that if necessary, Russian soldiers would come “on the ground to fight”.

Niger, Mali and Burkina are thus following a similar path, moving closer to Russia as they move away from the West and international bodies.

All three left the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and founded a joint force against the jihadist groups now raging across the Sahel.

And if Moscow dismantled Wagner, Africa Corps is none other than the “new brand” of the same ambition, Riley Moeder, analyst at the New Lines Institute, explained to AFP in December.

The goals of Russian mercenary companies in Africa “should not change. They are capable of exercising Russian influence at low cost, with a high degree of autonomy and deniability,” she added.

The project continues, but these groups “will be more closely controlled” by the Kremlin, and will continue to offer military cooperation in exchange for the exploitation of local mineral resources.

“Here to stay”

Lou Osborn, of the NGO All Eyes on Wagner, describes a Russian policy that is all the more ambitious because it is openly displayed. “The first phase of Russian influence in Africa was not accepted, therefore hidden, and Wagner was very useful,” she recalls.

“Now the Russians are more officially established. In the Sahel or the Central African Republic, photos of Russian delegations are published. The message is that they are here to stay. »

The United States has 1,100 soldiers engaged in the anti-jihadist fight in Niger and has a large drone base in Agadez (north). Leaving would notably mean delivering turnkey installations to the Russians.

And on Monday, the United States suggested that it would not do so cheerfully. A State Department spokesperson spoke of “contacts” with Niamey “to obtain clarification […] and discuss future steps.”

The Americans “expressed their concern about Niger's potential relations with Russia and Iran,” admitted a Pentagon spokesperson, Sabrina Singh, calling for “a new path” in bilateral cooperation.

In ambush, Moscow will seize every opportunity.

“Its campaign to reassure its partners and expand its relations – as in Burkina and now in Niger – illustrates the value that Moscow places on its influence in Africa,” assures Christopher Faulkner.

But his war in Ukraine limits his options. The Russian army is taking charge, via Africa Corps, of the deployments formerly carried out by Wagner (Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mali, Burkina), notes Raphael Parens, of the Foreign Police Research Institute (FPRI).

Moscow is “probably interested in an agreement with Niger, but its ability to support the operation of a military force is a completely different subject”, he summarizes.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116