In July 2023, Niger’s military took over in a coup just two years after the country’s first transition to civilian power. The coup has brought into sharp focus the role of foreign countries in Niger’s politics.
Before the coup, France and the US were the main security allies of Niger. But the coup leaders, led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, were open about their antagonism to France, the country’s former colonial ruler, and ordered the French military to leave.
Now the attention of many people in Niger has shifted to Russia.
Since the coup, several analysts have highlighted the role of Russia. Some analysts and regional experts believe Russia might have played a role directly or indirectly in the military takeover.
Others (including myself) argue that Russia is increasing its grip on the country and actively seeking to benefit from the coup. This was evident when Russia and Niger recently agreed to develop military ties.
Although the details of this partnership are still sketchy, Russia promised to increase the “combat readiness” of Niger’s military. In addition, there are discussions to partner in the areas of agriculture and energy.
I have been researching the security dynamics of the region for over a decade. The Niger junta’s romance with Russia has potential implications for peace and security in the region and beyond.
I have identified three main potential implications for Niger and other allied countries:
escalation of tensions between Niger and France
discontent between Niger and its regional allies
likely disruption of a US$13 billion gas pipeline project from Nigeria to the European Union through Niger.
Russia in the region
After the 2023 coup, France and the regional economic bloc Ecowas threatened to use force to reinstate the deposed president.
Russia warned against such a move.
The military junta then expelled French soldiers. France responded by closing its embassy in Niger.
The US also reduced its military and economic cooperation. Washington cut aid to the country by more than US$500 million and removed the country from its duty free export programme.
The European Union also instituted sanctions. Niger then cancelled its security and migration agreements with the European bloc.
Ecowas sanctioned Niger. Another major ally, Nigeria, cut electricity and instituted further sanctions.
The sanctions, coupled with an increase in insecurity, weakened and isolated Niger.
Rather than budge, the junta looked for alternative partners – like Russia and China. It also recently joined Mali and Burkina Faso to announce a withdrawal from Ecowas.
For its part, Russia was positioning itself as a reliable ally. In December 2023, a Russian delegation visited Niger and in January 2024, Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine visited Moscow to discuss military and economic ties.
Russia is no stranger to the region. Over the last three years it has set up security arrangements with the juntas running Niger’s neighbours: Mali and Burkina Faso. This has been done through the Wagner group, a private security company supported by Russia, whose operations in Africa were renamed Africa Corps in early 2024.
Russian military advisers have been operating in Mali since 2021. In addition, the Wagner group has 400 mercenaries in the country. Russia also delivered military hardware to the country in 2022.
There are three main potential implications for Niger and other allied countries.
First, a potential escalation of tensions between Niger and France. This will happen if Niger grants Russia uranium exploration rights that affect French companies with existing licences. Niger has suspended new mining licences and is currently auditing existing ones. This could affect French companies. France has vowed to protect its economic interests in Niger.
It depends on how the partnership between Russia and Niger develops, in particular how Niger intends to pay for its share of any military cooperation. If this involves the Wagner group, as is the case in security partnerships between Russia and Burkina Faso and Mali, the issue of mining concessions will come into play. Mali and Burkina Faso have paid for Wagner’s involvement by offering mining concessions in return for arms, ammunition and mercenaries.
Second, any security tie involving the Wagner group would create further discontent between Niger and its regional allies, especially Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.
Following the coup, Niger announced it was leaving the G5 Sahel, which was set up to coordinate security operations in the Sahel. This has turned attention to the country’s participation in the Multinational Joint Task Force.
Both institutions were set up to fight insurgency in the region and Niger has been an active contributor. The other countries in the joint task force, such as Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic, will be wary of working with Niger if it is in active partnership with Wagner, which is notorious for human rights abuses.
The third likely major fallout from Russia’s involvement revolves around Niger’s relationship with the EU. The EU is currently constructing a US$13 billion gas pipeline from Nigeria to the bloc through Niger. The pipeline project was designed to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas.
Based on Russia’s animosity with the EU, I believe Russia could use the security alliance to disrupt the project in order to secure its gas delivery to the EU.
The junta can use the pipeline project as leverage against the EU by demanding major financial concessions, putting the delivery of the project at risk and strengthening Russia’s position.
Migration is another area of contention when it comes to the EU. Niger now allows mass illegal migration through its territory for onward journey to Europe. This will create more problems for the EU.
The active presence of Russia in Niger could change the security and economic landscape of the region and affect all parties.
I maintain my initial position that rather than use force, the Niger junta should be encouraged to restore democracy as soon as possible. At the same time, some of the sanctions should be lifted to encourage dialogue and reduce the influence of Russia.
Written by Olayinka Ajala, Senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Leeds Beckett University.