US Concerned about Wagner Mercenary Group Exploiting Instability in Niger

The recent coup in Niger has raised concerns about the involvement of the Russian mercenary group known as Wagner. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that Wagner is “taking advantage” of the instability in Niger, although he does not believe that Russia or Wagner instigated the coup. The US is worried about the group potentially spreading throughout the Sahel region and causing increased insecurity. Blinken asserts that wherever Wagner has gone, death, destruction, and exploitation have followed.

Wagner is believed to have thousands of fighters present in countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali. While the group has lucrative business interests in these countries, it has also been accused of widespread human rights abuses. Despite these allegations, there is speculation that Niger’s army has sought assistance from Wagner due to the possibility of military intervention.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has issued a deadline for Niger’s junta leaders to step down and reinstate President Bazoum. However, this deadline was ignored, and Ecowas plans to hold a meeting to determine the next course of action. US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has already engaged in talks with the coup leaders, emphasizing the risks associated with collaborating with mercenaries.

President Bazoum, who is currently in captivity, has expressed concerns about Wagner’s influence in Africa. He believes that the entire central Sahel region could fall under Russian influence through the Wagner Group, which has a history of brutal terrorism in Ukraine.

It remains uncertain whether Wagner fighters have entered Niger, but a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel has claimed that 1,500 fighters have recently been deployed to Africa without disclosing specific locations.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, has extended an offer to the junta, urging them to contact the group. He claims that Wagner supports those fighting for sovereignty and the rights of their people.

The coup in Niger has also led to anti-French and pro-Russian sentiment within the country, similar to the sentiments experienced by neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. Both of these countries have shifted towards Moscow since their respective coups, and they have sent a delegation to Niger to assure the coup leaders of their support against other West African nations and their Western allies if necessary.

In the aftermath of the coup, the junta has appointed Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, the former finance minister, as the new prime minister. This decision comes as the European Union suspends its security cooperation with Niger, and the UK faces accusations of underestimating the threat posed by the Wagner group.

Overall, the involvement of Wagner in Niger’s instability raises concerns about the spread of insecurity and exploitation in the Sahel region. The international community, particularly the US and Ecowas, must carefully monitor the situation and take appropriate action to protect the sovereignty and stability of Niger and its neighboring countries.