The sudden toppling of the EU’s principal ally within the Sahel has punctured Western schadenfreude on Russia’s Africa-summit flop.
Overnight information on Thursday (27 July) that Niger’s military had eliminated president Mohamed Bazoum from energy took Europe without warning, coming shortly after EU international affairs chief Josep Borrell visited Niamey to reward Bazoum’s pro-democratic reforms.
“The HRVP [Borrell] was in Niger final week, every little thing was going effectively with the mission, every little thing was happening observe,” his spokeswoman stated, referring to an EU military-training mission there.
When requested by press in Brussels if EU-trained troopers might need taken half within the putsch, the spokeswoman stated the EU mission started work solely in February and its coaching programs “haven’t but began”.
When requested if any international actors have been concerned within the coup, she added: “We’re presently evaluating the scenario … [things are] nonetheless very fluid”.
The EU, France, the UK, and the US condemned the putsch and urged troopers to free Bazoum.
“We advise British nationals to stay indoors,” the UK international workplace stated in flash safety recommendation to expats.
The US state division stated: “At this time the town is calm. We advise everybody to restrict pointless actions, and keep away from all journey alongside Rue de la République [a central boulevard in Niamey]”.
If the putsch succeeds, it should characterize a significant setback for Western nations making an attempt to keep up political and army affect within the area.
France had lately moved its centre of operations to Niger after Mali kicked out worldwide troops preventing jihadists within the Sahel.
The strategic implications have been “very severe … not just for the French and EU but additionally the US, which maintains a drone base there”, stated Alex Vines, an Africa knowledgeable at British think-tank Chatham House.
“The putschists of their assertion final night time stated all current [international] agreements can be revered — however informed exterior companions to maintain their distance relating to the coup,” he added.
The Niger shock comes amid a geopolitical tug-of-war between the West and Russia in Africa.
Niger borders Mali and Libya the place Russian mercenary group Wagner have their largest numbers of fighters. It additionally borders Burkina-Faso, the place Wagner is making an attempt to construct a presence.
The coup coincided with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s summit with 17 African leaders in St Petersburg the identical day.
Borrell’s spokeswoman famous on Thursday that far fewer leaders got here to Russia than throughout Putin’s final Africa summit in Sochi in 2019.
She additionally stated the EU had much more to supply Africa than Russia by way of support and funding.
But if that was the case, St Petersburg appeared like a greater place than Brussels by which to plot intrigues on Niger’s future this week.
Putin’s visitors included Mali and Burkina-Faso junta leaders Assimi Goita and Ibrahim Traore.
The Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was additionally there, in accordance with a photograph of him shaking arms with the president of the Central African Republic, which was posted on social media, though Wagner had lately mutinied towards the Kremlin.
For Chatham House’s Vines, Russia had no hand within the Niger occasions. “Not in any respect, seems to be like that is absolutely pushed by native politics,” he informed EUobserver.
“We look ahead to a speedy decision of this inside political disaster within the curiosity of restoring civil peace for the advantage of our pleasant Nigerien individuals. We rely on the speedy launch of President M. Bazoum,” the Russian international ministry additionally stated.
But Bazoum had complained in May about anti-Western Wagner propaganda whereas on a state go to to London.
And some Niger coup supporters additionally waved Russian flags and chanted anti-French slogans, Reuters reported, prompting hypothesis.
“This is Wagner modus operandi throughout,” stated Joana de Deus Pereira, a Russia specialist at British defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute.
The low attendance on the Africa summit may be a PR failure for Russia, however it could be a mistake to underestimate Putin’s tenacity, she added.
“For Putin, this can be a marathon, likely an Iron Man race — you battle, you battle, you endure,” she stated.