The United States is intensifying its efforts to prevent Russia from gaining a significant foothold in coup-stricken Niger. Despite initial disappointment, the US is banking on longstanding military connections to maintain Niger’s alignment with Western interests.
Niger has played a pivotal role in US and French counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, particularly since the military takeover in neighboring Mali. Mali’s shift towards Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has raised concerns, while Niger remains a vital partner in the region.
Victoria Nuland, the acting deputy secretary of state, made an unexpected visit to Niamey on Monday. She acknowledged limited progress in reversing the July 26 coup, emphasizing the understanding of the military leaders about the risks posed by the Wagner mercenaries.
During her discussions with Brigadier General Moussa Salaou Barmou, the newly appointed military chief of staff, Nuland highlighted their historical cooperation with US Special Forces. Nuland expressed optimism that this collaboration would resonate with Niger’s military leadership.
“In a recent interview, Secretary of State Antony Blinken distanced Russia from the coup but cautioned that Wagner might exploit the situation. The State Department refuted claims of pro-Moscow sentiment in Niger, dismissing the appearance of Russian flags during demonstrations”.
“Analysts noted that Niger’s situation differs from Mali’s and the Central African Republic’s, where Wagner’s influence grew due to perceived threats. Niger’s military appears more inclined to maintain relations with the United States, despite aid suspension and calls for constitutional restoration”.
“Wagner’s involvement in Sudan, Libya, and Burkina Faso has caused upheaval and violence. The mercenary group employs brutal tactics and supports regimes in exchange for access to resources. Russia also benefits diplomatically, evident in Mali’s lone vote against condemning the Ukraine invasion at the United Nations”.
“Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, has survived controversy, continuing to operate despite his actions. His network of companies and mercenaries serves Russian interests, ensuring Russia’s ongoing involvement in African affairs”.
As the US seeks to safeguard its influence in Niger, the complex dynamics between Western powers and Russia continue to shape the geopolitical landscape in the Sahel region.