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Sam Mednick/AP) Mohamed Toumba, one of the soldiers who ousted Nigerian president Mohamed Bazoum, addresses reporters.

US claims Russia's Wagner mercenaries may 'take advantage' of Niger coup

Mali and Burkina Faso — whose military leaders have been accused of ties with Wagner — have sent envoys to Niger in solidarity with the coup leaders.

LAST UPDATE | Aug 8th 2023, 10:32 PM

US SECRETARY OF State Antony Blinken has warned against Russia’s Wagner mercenaries taking advantage of instability in coup-hit Niger, whose neighbor Mali has become a partner of Moscow.

In an interview with the BBC released today, Blinken doubted that Wagner — which in June staged a shadowy rebellion against President Vladimir Putin — plotted the Nigerien military’s July 26 ouster of the elected president, Western ally Mohamed Bazoum.

“I think what happened and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner,” Blinken said in the interview Monday, according to a transcript released by the State Department.

“But to the extent that they try to take advantage of it — and we see a repeat of what’s happened in other countries, where they’ve brought nothing but bad things in their wake — that wouldn’t be good,” he said.

“Every single place that this group, Wagner Group, has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed.”

Wagner has partnered with African nations including Mali and the Central African Republic, leading to wide accusations of abuses by rights groups and Western governments.

embeddedbe8c8da8e38f41d795b779bb01aa8055 Sam Mednick / AP Supporters of Niger’s ruling junta hold a Russian flag in Niamey. Sam Mednick / AP / AP

Military-run Mali has become the rare country to shift toward Russia diplomatically during the Ukraine war, in which Wagner has fought ruthlessly.

Mali and Burkina Faso — whose military leaders have also been accused of ties with Wagner — have sent envoys to Niger in solidarity with the coup leaders.

Niger has been the key base for US and French anti-jihadist operations in the Sahel, even more so with the withdrawal of French and other international forces from Mali.

Blinken’s acting deputy, Victoria Nuland, visited Niger on Monday and said the military leadership understood the “risks” of partnering with Wagner.


Nigeria’s president, who is also head of the West African bloc ECOWAS, has not ruled out military intervention in Niger but believes diplomacy is the “best way forward” to resolve the crisis, his spokesman said Tuesday.

President Bola Tinubu weighed in for the first time since the soldiers behind the coup defied the bloc’s Sunday deadline to reinstate elected president Bazoum or face the possible use of force.

Meanwhile efforts by ECOWAS and the United States to parlay with Niger’s new rulers have made no headway ahead of a crisis summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday.

“No options have been taken off of the table,” Tinubu’s spokesman Ajuri Ngelale said, while adding that Tinubu and other West African leaders favour diplomacy.

Earlier, the soldiers who seized power in Niamey on July 26 blocked a mission by ECOWAS ahead of the summit.

In a letter, the coup leaders said that public “anger” triggered by ECOWAS sanctions meant the delegation’s safety could be at risk.

– © AFP 2023

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