Ousted Niger President Urges US Intervention Amid Fears Wagner Could Move In

On Thursday evening The Washington Post published an op-ed by the ousted president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, calling on the United States and the "entire international community" to intervene in order to restore him to power, and return the country to constitutional order.

He also stated in the Washington Post that he was writing "as a hostage", at a moment unrest has persisted in the streets, following his overthrow by the military last Friday (and by his own presidential guard). 

Earlier in the day the junta declared the formal withdrawal of Niger's ambassadors from France, the US, Nigeria and Togo. There are now growing fears of an alliance between Niger's military and Russia's Wagner Group, which has a significant presence across West Africa and elsewhere on the continent.

The New York Times has speculated on this prospect, writing Wednesday:

A week after a military overthrow of Niger’s elected president, a coup leader and other officers flew to neighboring Mali on Wednesday to meet with its rulers, raising concerns that a key Western ally could grow closer to military leaders in Mali who partner with the Kremlin-backed Wagner private military company.

Gen. Salifou Modi, one of the putschists who removed President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger from power last week, was part of a delegation of military officials who visited Mali, according to a post on social media from the office of the president in Mali.

The Wagner group has about 1,500 troops in Mali, allied with the military regime there. Its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, has praised the coup in Niger and offered Wagner’s services to the new rulers, though it is unclear what operational control he still has over the group after his failed mutiny in Russia in June.

Already the rhetoric of 'Russia being behind the coup' is growing, as a top Ukrainian official has already alleged this week. Is a Cold War 2.0 in Africa in the works?

* * *

As of late Wednesday (US time) the State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the American embassy in Niamey, the capital of Niger. This after European-led efforts to fly EU citizens from the capital were already well underway.

The State Department said non-emergency personnel and eligible family members would leave the country "given ongoing developments" and "out of an abundance of caution" amid the unrest following last Friday's military coup, which saw President Mohamed Bazoum get overthrown by his own presidential guard.

AFP/Getty Images

"The U.S. is committed to our relationship with the people of Niger. The embassy remains open, and our leaders are diplomatically engaged at the highest levels," Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced. Senior officials will still be working from the embassy, which has remained functioning. 

"Commercial flight options are limited.  We updated our travel advisory to reflect this and informed U.S. citizens that we are only able to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Niger given our reduced personnel," the statement said, also as France is leading evac flights for EU citizens seeking exit from the country.

Reportedly, hundreds of Americans have already been evacuated, and over 1,000 European Union citizens as well, as the flights out of the capital continue. France on Thursday announced the completion of its large-scale evacuations.

Meanwhile, in fresh statements President Joe Biden has urged the junta leaders to restore the democratically-elected government.

"I call for President Bazoum and his family to be immediately released, and for the preservation of Niger's hard-earned democracy," Biden said. "The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders," the US president said. "They have expressed their will through free and fair elections — and that must be respected."

Ironically Biden's plea to release and restore Bazoum came on the 63rd anniversary of Niger’s independence. His words also came amid rumors of possible French military intervention. There are hundreds of Western troops in the country, especially from France and the US, who were ostensibly there for 'counterterror' operations.

But the presence of Western bases in Niger might not last long under the junta, given 'anti-imperialist' nature of coup supporters in the streets has been amply demonstrated by their waving Russian flags. Also, the Russian mercenary group Wagner is just next door in Mali. From the West's perspective, looming large in the background is expanding Russian influence in Africa.

Coup leader Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani is continuing to warned against "any interference in the internal affairs" of Niger, while alleging the now exiled government has been plotting with the French to allow some kind of intervention. This also as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday spoke to ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday, and other international leaders have been in contact.

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