The Sahel Tug-of-Conflict: U.S. And Russia Face Off For Affect In Niger

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Yves right here. Although this submit is from a identified official America propaganda outlet, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, it comprises sufficient admissions in opposition to curiosity about US prospects for getting its means in Niger that I discovered it revealing. It additionally has some observations about Wagner forces within the theater that sound correct. Readers are very a lot inspired to sanity examine that and different views offered beneath. After all, there is no such thing as a point out of the USSR and now Russia having cred within the area for its previous anti-colonial efforts.

By Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees. Cross posted from OilPrice

  • U.S. relations with Niger, a key ally, face challenges after a army coup ousted the president, doubtlessly paving the best way for better Russian affect within the Sahel.
  • Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group, linked to the Kremlin, has signaled help to the Nigerien coup leaders, complicating worldwide geopolitical dynamics.
  • With a number of coups destabilizing the Sahel area, specialists imagine the Sahel’s weak governments and anti-Western sentiments supply fertile floor for Russian engagement.

After a sequence of coups swept throughout Africa’s impoverished Sahel states over the previous three years, resulting in a bigger Russian army presence, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in March made a historic journey to Niger, Washington’s key ally within the area.

“Niger is basically a unprecedented mannequin at a time of nice problem – a mannequin of resilience, a mannequin of democracy, a mannequin of cooperation,” Blinken, the primary U.S. prime diplomat to go to Niger, mentioned on the time. “It’s one which we deeply worth and deeply respect.”

Now, lower than 5 months later, U.S.-Niger relations are on the breaking point after army officers on July 26 ousted the president and seized energy. The coup – if it succeeds – additionally threatens to deepen regional instability, weaken regional safety, and presumably open the door to better Russian affect within the Sahel and past, specialists warn.

‘An Alarming Pattern’

Earlier than the coup, Niger’s picture within the West had been bettering, thanks partly to a peaceable, democratic switch of energy in 2021 – the nation’s first since independence greater than seven a long time in the past. Blinken’s journey was designed to affirm U.S. help for Niger and its president, Mohamed Bazoum, who has aligned key priorities with the West.

The US has invested about $500 million over the previous decade to coach and equip the Nigerien army to fight militant organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS which have been terrorizing the Sahel. The US, which has 1,100 troops on the bottom, additionally constructed a large-scale drone base within the north of the nation used to surveil the armed teams’ cross-border actions and to collect intelligence.

However a wave of coups throughout the Sahel now threatens to jeopardize this cooperation and progress.

Three of Niger’s neighbors, together with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad, have all succumbed to coups since 2020, as have close by Sudan and Guinea. Different nations within the area, together with Senegal, have not too long ago skilled main political turmoil.

“That is an alarming development,” Sean McFate, an adjunct professor at Syracuse College and an Africa knowledgeable, advised RFE/RL. “The extra coups occur, the extra success they take pleasure in, the extra temptation there might be for future juntas round Africa.”

McFate added that the development has opened the door for growing Russia’s affect.

This time, the USA and its companions, together with the 15-member Financial Group of West African States (ECOWAS), have taken a agency stand in opposition to the Nigerien junta within the hopes of forcing it to reinstate the democratically elected Bazoum.

Washington has halted some support to Niger, one of many poorest nations on this planet, whereas 11 members of the West African group have imposed robust monetary sanctions and lower deliveries of electrical energy. ECOWAS has additionally threatened to invade Niger.

What Wagner Affords

Against this, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin-connected entrepreneur and founding father of the infamous Wagner mercenary group, which is energetic in Africa, has provided help to the Nigerien coup leaders, though specialists query whether or not his group can do a lot within the brief time period.

“The junta wants help and recognition in the event that they’re not going to step down,” Daniel Eizenga, a analysis fellow on the Washington-based Africa Heart for Strategic Research, advised RFE/RL. “And that’s what Wagner doubtlessly provides them – an enormous complication to something that appears like a army intervention [by ECOWAS] to push them out.”

Wagner has as much as 1,000 troops every in Mali and Libya in addition to close by Sudan, Eizenga mentioned. It additionally has forces within the Central African Republic.

However with clouds over Wagner’s future following its failed rebel in Russia in June and its present commitments in Africa, it’s unclear what number of males it may muster to help the coup leaders in Niger, Eizenga mentioned.

“What Wagner would have the ability to mobilize within the brief time period, I believe, is the paramount query right here,” he mentioned. “However it doesn’t take a whole lot of boots on the bottom on the a part of Wagner to create a really sophisticated worldwide geopolitical scenario that may deter ECOWAS from intervening because it’s threatened to do.”

Sebastian Elischer, a political science professor on the College of Florida and a sub-Saharan Africa specialist, mentioned Wagner doesn’t seem to have a lot heavy gear in Africa to assist Niger confront ECOWAS.

He described Wagner belongings in Africa as “mainly Kalashnikovs and Toyotas” and mentioned troops deployed to neighboring Mali are primarily army trainers, not combatants.

Each Elischer and Eizenga additionally questioned how Niger would pay Wagner in gentle of the help cuts and sanctions. Niger had anticipated to obtain $2.2 billion in international support, loans, and grants this 12 months, an quantity equal to 40 p.c of its price range.

“I don’t actually see [Wagner involvement] enjoying out in Niger within the brief time period,” Elischer mentioned.

He defined that Russia doesn’t have the historic financial and diplomatic ties with Niger that it does with Mali and different nations the place Wagner is energetic to assist facilitate cooperation.

He referred to as Wagner posturing as a substitute associate to Niger “largely a efficiency for the media and particularly for the African viewers.”

Russia has been pushing to make inroads into Africa since 2014, when the USA and Europe started to isolate Moscow following its forcible seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, specialists mentioned.

Russian President Vladimir Putin final month held a summit with African leaders and delegations in St. Petersburg, his second since 2019.

Russia’s pursuits in Africa embody weapon gross sales, UN votes, and entry to pure sources, Elischer mentioned. It additionally seeks to undertaking itself as a viable participant within the World South “and to make the West fear about it,” he added.

“I believe that’s extra so than anything, actually within the Sahel,” he mentioned.

A Poisonous Cocktail

The Sahel, an unlimited semiarid area that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pink Sea, is wedged between the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south. It crosses by means of elements of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan.

The area has seen an explosion of militant violence over the previous decade amid a poisonous cocktail of entrenched poverty, weak governments with little legitimacy, disruptive local weather change, and different issues, specialists say.

The Sahel is fertile floor for Russian engagement as a result of the governments are fragile and the general public extensively shares anti-French and anti-Western sentiments, McFate mentioned. France left a brutal colonial legacy within the Sahel that’s nonetheless felt immediately.

In Mali, Wagner changed French forces after their expulsion by a junta.

“Russia is exploiting anti-French attitudes throughout the Sahel in order that they’ll supplant France politically, hegemonically all through the area,” McFate mentioned. “Russia desires everyone trying towards Moscow and never towards Washington or Paris.”

The Washington Put up, citing leaked U.S. intelligence, reported in April that Washington possessed data indicating Wagner was in search of to create a “unified ‘confederation’ of African states” that would come with Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Sudan.

Wagner was planning the overthrow of the regime in Chad as a part of that bigger aim, the newspaper mentioned.

The US has mentioned it doesn’t imagine Wagner was behind the coup in Niger. Specialists say it was triggered by Bazoum’s choice to switch army officers appointed by his predecessor.

That mentioned, Niger has twice been the goal of Russian disinformation campaigns, in response to an April 2022 report by the Africa Heart for Strategic Research.

Networks related to Wagner reportedly sought in recent times to set off rumors of a coup in Niger, the middle mentioned.

Eizenga mentioned Niger’s safety scenario is more likely to deteriorate if Wagner strikes in, pointing to the explosion of violence in Mali and Burkina Faso following their coups and the departure of French forces.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland advised reporters on August 7 following a gathering with members of the junta that they “perceive very properly the dangers to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in.”

Eizenga mentioned if the USA and ECOWAS can coerce the junta in Niger to surrender energy, it may have optimistic reverberations within the Sahel.

The coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso have repeatedly delayed guarantees to ECOWAS handy again energy to civilian management in an try and entrench themselves, he mentioned.

If ECOWAS can present that it isn’t “toothless,” then the leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso “might not skip the following deadline,” he concluded.

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