Niger coup result of battle for influence between West and Russia: Expert

Niger coup result of battle for influence between West and Russia: Expert

Faction against close ties with US, France has orchestrated coup attempt and could shift Niger toward Russia, says analyst

By Emre Basaran

ISTANBUL (AA) – The West African nation of Niger is going through turbulent, uncertain times following a coup attempt against President Mohamed Bazoum by what experts say is a military faction at odds with his government’s close ties to the West.

A group of soldiers calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP) delivered a statement on Nigerien state television shortly after detaining Bazoum, saying they took the step due to the “deteriorating security situation and bad governance.”

Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first democratic power transition since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960.

He has struck a defiant tone, declaring in a tweet that democracy would prevail in the country and the people would protect their “hard-won” democratic gains.

The US, UN, EU, France and others have voiced support for Bazoum, calling for his immediate release, particularly since he remains a key ally in a region marred by militancy and insecurity, where many countries have turned away from the West as it vies with Russia for influence.

That very battle between Moscow and the West has played a key role in the unrest, according to Huriye Yildirim Cinar, an expert at Turkish think tank TASAM who focuses on the region.

She said the coup attempt has been orchestrated by a faction in the military that opposes his government’s close ties to the West and the “passivism” of the state.

“After the coups in countries such as Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic, these countries built strong partnerships with Russia and distanced themselves from the West, especially France,” Cinar told Anadolu.

“At this point, Niger … has emerged as the only country in the region that can be called an ally of the West.”

She said Niger, a country of some 25 million, has a vital role in the West’s wider policy for sub-Saharan Africa.

“So much so that the US established an air base in the country in 2018. Although it was described as a non-permanent base, over time, this base was enlarged,” said Cinar, who is the co-director of TASAM’s African Institute.

“On the other hand, Niger is the fourth-richest country in the world in terms of uranium resources. The French nuclear company AREVA has held the right to process uranium resources in Niger for more than 50 years. For this reason, both France and the US attach great importance to Niger.”

- Russia-France rivalry

Cinar pointed out that the coup attempt was welcomed by prominent Russian figures such as Alexander Dugin, a political scientist and philosopher believed to have close ties to the Kremlin.

“If this coup proves successful and a new anti-Western elite comes into power, it is possible that they will develop closer relations with Russia,” she said.

She said people like Dugin were hailing the coup attempt because they think “it would now be possible to pull Niger to their side.”

Another factor in the events is the “deep rivalry between France and Russia in West Africa,” she said.

“This competition can sometimes increase African leaders’ leverage in bilateral relations,” Cinar explained.

She said French President Emmanuel Macron has “recently paid visits with new offers to African countries where France has lost its influence.”

The current situation could also lead to more security problems in Africa, according to Cinar.

“The interruption of the fight against terrorism, the food crisis, economic problems, and coups are among these problems. As long as Niger is the scene of this power rivalry and is governed by an anti-democratic power, it is clear that the peace and stability of the people of Niger and the states of the region will suffer greatly,” she said.

However, she pointed out that people have come out against the putsch, even drawing parallels with the defeated July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye.

“It is quite remarkable that some individuals in these demonstrations said they were out to support their president just as people supported President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Türkiye,” said Cinar.

“It should also be noted that this mass of people is there to protect democracy and is actually uncomfortable with the French domination that has been on them for many years,” she added.​​​​​​​

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