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World News


Niger’s Coup is a Windfall for Russia

In a world where geopolitical dynamics are ever-evolving, the recent coup in Niger has sent ripples through the Sahel region, carrying implications that extend far beyond Africa. This development demands close examination, particularly in how it could shift Russia’s foreign policy objectives in the Sahel.

On July 26, Niger experienced yet another military coup, adding another chapter to its history of political instability. Over the past several decades, Niger has experienced 8 coups. The arrest of the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, by members of his presidential guard led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, has prompted concerns about the stability of the Sahel, a region already facing its fair share of challenges, including terrorist activity, extreme poverty, and climate change.

Russia’s involvement in the Sahel has been multifold, reflecting broader interests. Moscow’s engagement in the region has ranged from arms deals and military coalitions to diplomatic initiatives aimed at countering terrorism and organized crime. Nonetheless, the Niger coup presents Russia with both opportunities and challenges that could reshape its foreign policy strategy in this crucial region.

One of the immediate implications of the Niger coup is the potential interference in ongoing counterterrorism efforts. The Sahel has become a nest of extremist activity, with groups like Boko Haram, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), posing significant threats to regional security. As a critical member of the G5 Sahel joint counterterrorism force, Niger has been instrumental in containing these threats. The coup casts doubt on the country’s continued commitment to these efforts and could potentially weaken the collective response to terrorism and violent extremism.

Moscow has demonstrated a keen interest in portraying itself as a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism, both regionally and globally. If Niger’s political turmoil endangers counterterrorism interventions, Russia may feel compelled to revise its engagement and consider a more forceful approach to fill the void left by other actors. This could involve enhancing military support to other Sahel countries, affirming Russia’s image as a credible security partner. However, the coup also highlights the inherent risks of relying solely on military solutions.

Africa Sahel map
(Photo illustration by John Lyman)

The root causes of instability in the Sahel are deeply intertwined with issues such as poverty, governance deficits, and ethnic tensions. Russia’s foreign policy in the region could shift towards a more comprehensive approach, including greater support for development projects and diplomatic initiatives aimed at addressing these underlying issues.

Another dimension of the Niger coup’s implications for Russia relates to its global aspirations. Moscow’s engagement in Africa is seen as part of its plan to counterbalance Western influence and widen its sphere of influence. By cultivating political and economic ties with African nations, Russia aims to enhance its geopolitical clout and access to valuable resources. The instability caused by the coup, however, might force Russia to recalibrate its ambitions and tactics.

The coup also brings into focus what role the Wagner Group will play within the internal dynamics of Niger now that the country has effectively ended its experiment with democracy and with it, assistance from France and the United States. Wagner’s exploits are well documented in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and Sudan and there are concerns that its involvement in Niger could lead to resource exploitation and human rights abuses.

William Rampe of the Council on Foreign Relations writes, “In some cases, Wagner’s involvement in Africa has resulted in alleged human rights violations and exacerbated regional insecurity. In Libya, Wagner troops who fought alongside the Libyan National Army during its 2019 Tripoli campaign have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings and planting landmines in civilian areas. More recently, the group has been reportedly supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces militia with missiles during its war against the Sudanese army. Wagner troops also operate in the same areas as the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, threatening the United Nation’s ability to protect civilians. Meanwhile, the group has continued to expand its foothold in the Sahel. Recently leaked U.S. intelligence has revealed that Wagner is working with Chadian rebels to oust the country’s transitional president, and some analysts predict that Burkina Faso could soon hire Wagner to help counter a growing jihadi insurgency after France withdrew its troops from the country earlier this year.”

The coup underscores the fragility of partnerships in a region marked by instability. The volatility of Sahel politics highlights the pertinence of adaptability in Russia’s foreign policy approach. Moscow could find itself working with new and untested leaders, which might necessitate a revision of its strategies and objectives.

The events in Niger also raise questions about the efficacy of the “Russian model” of governance promotion. Moscow has often positioned itself as an alternative to Western-style democracy, promoting stability and strong leadership over open political systems. However, the coup in Niger emphasizes the risks associated with concentrated power and the potential for authoritarian regimes to succumb to internal turmoil. This could prompt Russia to seek a more moderate plan of action that promotes stability without undermining democratic institutions.

In essence, the coup in Niger carries profound implications for Russia’s foreign policy in the Sahel region. While the immediate impacts might necessitate a rethinking of counterterrorism efforts and development initiatives, the broader consequences require a deeper examination of Moscow’s ambitions and methods. The coup underlines the fragility of the Sahel and the complexities of power dynamics in the region.

As Russia became the main player by default and is now maneuvering amid these challenges, it must master the art of balancing geopolitical objectives with the imperative of addressing the major causes of insecurity. The events in Niger serve as an essential reminder of the constant interplay between internal politics and external powers, and a security advisory opinion that encourages foreign policy to be more adaptable, nuanced, and sensitive to the evolving dynamics of a region in flux.