The Niger junta leaders ask Russia’s Wagner mercenary groups for help

Niger’s new military junta has asked for help from the Russian Wagner mercenary group as the deadline nears for it to release the country’s ousted president.

According to an analyst, Niger’s new military regime has requested help from the Russian mercenary group to meet the deadline for releasing the ousted president of the country or facing possible military intervention from the West African regional bloc.

Wassim Nasr is a senior research fellow and journalist at the Soufan Center. He told The Associated Press that the request was made during a trip by Gen. Salifou Mody to the neighboring Mali where he had contact with someone in Wagner. Three Malian sources, as well as a French diplomat, confirmed the first report by France 24.

He said that they need Wagner because he will be their guarantee for holding onto power. The group is currently considering this request.

Niger’s junta has been given a deadline by the regional bloc ECOWAS on Sunday to release and restore the democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum who described himself as a prisoner.

Defense chiefs of ECOWAS member states finalized an intervention strategy on Friday, and urged military forces to prepare resources. A mediation team that was sent to Niger Thursday was not allowed to enter the capital or meet junta leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

Mody warned Niger against military intervention after his visit to Mali run by a junta that was sympathetic to the junta. He also vowed to do whatever it took to prevent Niger from becoming “a new Libya”, Niger’s national television reported on Friday.

Niger is seen as the West’s last reliable counterterrorism ally in a region that has experienced many coups in recent years. The Juntas are turning away from France, the former colonizer. Wagner is active in several African countries including Mali where human rights groups accuse its forces of abuses.

Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokeswoman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BFM that there was no direct link between Russia and Niger’s coup. However, “clearly there is an opportunistic approach on Russia’s part, which attempts to support destabilization wherever it finds them,” Legendre said. Residents waved Russian flags on the streets days after Niger’s ruling junta took power.

The spokeswoman called Wagner a “recipe of chaos.”

Catherine Colonna said on Saturday that the regional threat was credible, and she warned putschists not to take the threat lightly. She said, “Coups no longer make sense… it’s time to stop them.” The ministry stated that France supported “firmly and determinedly” the ECOWAS effort to ensure the coup leaders failed, and called for Bazoum to be released and all other members of his cabinet.

Nasr stated that Niger’s military leaders are following the playbook Mali, and Burkina Faso which is also run by a Junta. But it’s moving quicker to consolidate its power. “(Tchiani), chose his path. So he’s not wasting time, because there’s an international mobilization.”

He said that the question was how will the international community react if Wagner were to be brought in. After years of collaboration, the French military left Mali when Wagner arrived at the end 2021. Nasr stated that after the United States labeled Wagner as a terrorist group, international partners may have a stronger response now.

In Niger, the U.S. has poured in hundreds of millions in military aid to counter the growing threat of jihadism in the region. France has 1,500 troops in Niger – despite the fact that coup leaders claim to have broken security agreements with Paris – and the U.S. also has 1,100 soldiers there.

Andrew Lebovich is a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He said that an intervention could have “serious consequences for Niger, and for the entire region.”

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The exact nature of an intervention or the date it will begin is not known. Niger’s ruling junta has urged the populace to be on guard for spies. Self-organized defense groups are patrolling the capital at night and monitoring cars.

A report from the Hudson Institute warns that any intervention comes with risks. The report said that if the junta were able to rally the population around the flag and arm civilian militias, the intervention would morph into a complex counterinsurgency for which ECOWAS was not prepared.

While some Nigerians are preparing for a fight, other are trying to deal with the travel and economic restrictions imposed by ECOWAS following the coup. The sanctions have led to the closure of land and air borders and the suspension of commercial and financial transactions between member states and ECOWAS.

Residents say that the cost of goods has increased and they have limited cash.

Sita Adamsou, President of the Niger Association to Defend Human Rights, said: “We are deeply worried about the effects of these sanctions on the supply and availability of essential products such as food, medicines, medical equipment, petrol products and electricity.”

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