Niger chooses Russia against the Europeans

While the last French soldiers are leaving Niger, the first Russian officials are already welcomed by Abdourahamane Tiani's junta

Niger chooses Russia against the Europeans

While the last French soldiers are leaving Niger, the first Russian officials are already welcomed by Abdourahamane Tiani's junta. On Monday, December 4, the general who came to power in a coup four months ago received with all honors the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense, Colonel General Yunous-bek Evkourov. The visit by a member of the Russian government is unprecedented since the putsch.

As the putschists at the head of Mali and Burkina Faso did before them, the new masters of Niger announced the “strengthening of cooperation in the field of defense” with Moscow. If a “protocol” has been signed, the content of the latter remains “defense secret”, specifies a government advisor. Younous-bek Evkourov also met the Nigerien defense minister, considered the country's second strongman, General Salifou Mody.

At the same time, Niger broke with one of its most important Western partners. In a note sent Monday to the European Union delegation in Niamey, he denounced the two agreements governing European support for Nigerien defense and security forces. Eucap Sahel, the civilian mission of around 130 men created in 2012 to support the security forces at the country's borders, and the EUMPM, the military mission installed there since 2022 to help Nigerien soldiers fight against terrorism , are asked to pack up.

One more divorce

At the end of November, the Nigerien authorities put an end to one of the main pillars of European cooperation in Africa, by repealing a law which penalized the illicit trafficking of migrants. “It was the EU that suspended its security cooperation with us after the coup. As they no longer want us, we no longer want them either, underlines the government advisor cited above. Our alliances with the West have taken precedence since colonization and have not brought us luck. We need to get rid of it and get closer to other countries. »

One more divorce after that with France, ally of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, who is still detained by the military in power. As early as August, the junta demanded the dismissal of the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, and requested the withdrawal of 1,500 French soldiers. No additional: on Tuesday, Niger, with Mali, denounced the agreements signed in the 1960s and 1970s with Paris which prevent French individuals and companies established in these Sahel countries from being taxed twice.

Faced with sanctions and reprimands addressed to the Europeans, the Americans and their 1,100 soldiers in Niger are remaining discreet, trying to keep a foothold there. The day before the arrival of the Russian delegation in Niamey, Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon, present since mid-August, presented the junta with copies of her credentials, one more step towards the formalization of her appointment in the country.

The Russians, however, are establishing themselves as the new privileged partners. A power which did not colonize Africa and which trained numerous soldiers from the continent after independence, Russia also offers lethal weapons without demanding compensation in terms of respect for human rights. Deliveries of planes and helicopters, sale of arms and deployment of mercenaries from the Russian private security group Wagner in Mali; strengthening of security cooperation in Burkina Faso, in particular through the training of soldiers, promise of construction of a civilian nuclear power plant and aid in health matters... For the juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso, and now in Niger, all arrivals in power by promising to defeat the jihadist groups who have continued to plague their territory despite Western military support, the offer is attractive.

Alliance of Sahel States

Despite their differences, these three countries have chosen to strengthen their alliance. After Bamako a year ago, Niamey and Ouagadougou announced on December 1 their decision to leave the G5 Sahel, a political and military cooperation framework with Chad and Mauritania created in 2014 with the goodwill of France to fight against jihadist groups, which they consider to serve “foreign interests”. They now prefer the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), set up in September in the face of the threat of military intervention from other West African countries to dislodge the Nigerien putschists.

This new bloc concentrates most of the diplomatic efforts undertaken by Moscow on the continent in recent months. According to Flightradar24, a site specializing in air traffic monitoring, before landing in Niamey on December 3, the Russian military plane which transported Mr. Evkourov's official delegation made a stopover in Bamako and Ouagadougou. The Russian Deputy Defense Minister had already made a first visit to Burkina Faso in September and October.

If the Burkinabe junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who was guest of honor at the last Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg at the end of July, has not communicated on the last stay of Mr. Evkourov, the Mali of Colonel Assimi Goïta detailed its outlines on December 2. In Bamako, "important decisions were taken", noted the presidency on its Facebook page, referring to "the sending (...) in the next two weeks (...) of Russian experts in various sectors [energy, transport, telecommunications, mining]”. Before emphasizing Moscow’s “satisfaction” “with the creation of the AES, which it considers to be an ideal framework for cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Sahel States.” The latter also expressed their ambition for the AES following a meeting of their three heads of diplomacy in Bamako, between November 30 and December 1: “To ultimately achieve a federation . »