31 July 2023 in Military


As it was during the Cold War, the confrontation between East and West is taking place not only on the Donbass border, but everywhere – wherever there are organised forces to overthrow the existing precarious equilibrium. This has been the case in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has been exploited by French industry for a century and has been in Moscow’s sights for a few years now. On Wednesday 26 July, an armed group belonging to Niger’s Presidential Guard occupies the Government Palace; Major Colonel Amadou Abdramane, flanked by several officers, announces on national TV microphones the removal from power of President Mohamed Bazoumun: ‘We have decided to put an end to the regime you know’, accusing him of having progressively worsened the security of the country, leading it to economic and social disaster[1] . As is customary, the suspension of the Constitution and political activities is announced, borders are closed and anyone attempting to oppose the coup is threatened. Supporters of the coup, on Thursday, as soon as they received the news, looted and set fire to the headquarters of the Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme (PNDS-Tarayya), in power until the day before, after gathering in front of the National Assembly building waving Russian flags and shouting slogans against the French[2] . The next night, a note signed by the Chief of Staff of the army states that the army supports the action of the Presidential Guard with the sole purpose of avoiding bloodshed, preventing the destabilisation of the country and safeguarding the safety of the President and his family. Bazoum is a prisoner in his residence, but he is in good health. This was ascertained by Emmanuel Macron, who managed to get in touch with him personally. This was reported by French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna at a press conference in which she offered a ‘way out’ to the coup plotters should they agree to negotiate with the French, who have behind them the unanimous condemnation for their acts by the international community[3] . On Friday, the coup plotters announced that the 62-year-old General Abdourahmane Tchiani, head of the Presidential Guard, would lead the transitional government. He is a close ally of former president Mahamadou Issoufou and, paradoxically, the man who foiled another coup in March 2021. No surprise: the coup in the former French colony is the seventh in West and Central Africa since 2020 and could have serious consequences for democratic progress and the fight against Islamist insurgent groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the region, where Niger is a key ally of the West. But it is also yet another step in the project to extend Russian influence on the continent.

Bamako, 7 February 2023: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shakes the hand of Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop – these are the days of Russia’s negotiations with the Sahel apes to change their history and international orientation[4]

The country was seen as the last major ally against religious extremism in the Sahel region: ‘France has lost its closest ally in the region, the only one to have been democratically elected in 2020,’ says Emmanuel Dupuy, head of the think tank IPSE, which specialises in security in Europe[5] . With a cooperation agreement, France recently sent around 1,500 soldiers to Niger, turning it into one of the most important air hubs for French troops, who were forced to move their logistical centre there from Mali last year after the failure of Operation Barkhane following the growing anti-French sentiment accompanied by the increase in violence in the Sahel[6] . Italy has also been present in Niger since 2018 with the MISIN mission, with around 300 soldiers[7] . Deputy Foreign Minister Edmondo Cirielli states: “It seems that Russia is once again behind this coup”[8] , based on the fact that Niger has been in the crosshairs of complex Russian disinformation campaigns in recent years[9] . After the October 2022 coup in Burkina Faso, pro-Russian Telegram channels suggested Niger as a future target[10] . Disinformation networks linked to the Wagner group tried at least a couple of times to fuel rumours of a coup d’état in Niger, including through a carefully orchestrated online scheme to coincide with a trip abroad by President Bazoum in February 2023[11] . The destabilisation of Niger would represent yet another step forward for the Russian mercenaries that rage in various parts of the region. The crisis in relations between Putin and the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, does not change anything: the mercenary group has simply changed leader, and the group is so deeply rooted in these places that it can live off its own sap, and continues to be a war hub of the Russian Federation[12] . Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while condemning the coup and calling for the restoration of order[13] , reported that security assistance to African countries will continue, specifically mentioning the Central African Republic and Mali. In the crosshairs of the superpowers are the uranium mines, a strategic and essential source for the vast network of nuclear power plants, especially in France: without them, for example, the mining activities where Oran[14] , the French mining company, is at the forefront, are at risk. Niger is the world’s seventh largest producer of uranium, supplying the radioactive element for 5% of the total market with 2020 tonnes (2022)[15] . Almost all of it enters the European market, to the point of accounting for almost a quarter of the total[16] – so much more than is purchased by Kazakhstan, the world’s leading exporter.

Niamey, 28 July 2023: pro-coup demonstrators celebrate victory with a Russian flag[17]

Several open-pit mining sites are located near the town of Arlit in the north-west and are operated by Somair (Société des Mines de l’Aïr), a joint venture between France’s Orano with 63.4% and Niger’s state-owned Sopamin (Société du Patrimoine des Mines du Niger) with 36.66%. The Imouraren site, about 80 km south of Arlit, according to Oran, contains one of the world’s largest reserves[18] : mining activities, although there are licences to operate, are on standby waiting for the price of uranium to improve. In monetary terms, uranium for Niger is the second largest export item after gold. President Mohamed Bazoum won the presidential election with 56% of the vote in February 2021, an election widely regarded as free and fair after a long and dramatic history of military rule, a real hope for one of the world’s poorest countries that has seen its per capita income contract by 29% over the past 35 years of stagnation. But in the new geopolitical framework inflamed by the Ukraine war and the world’s inability to transform the old bipolar balance into a new multipolar order, the Niger massacre counts for less than a downpour in a forgotten European valley. The media coverage of the latter is much bigger and more competent.


[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/07/26/africa/niger-presidency-attempted-coup-intl/index.html [2] https://www.dw.com/en/niger-coup-not-final-says-france-as-army-backs-putsch/a-66373715 [3] https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/niger-il-volto-del-golpe-137684 [4] https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20230207-lavrov-says-russia-to-help-mali-improve-military-capabilities [5] https://twitter.com/emdupuy [6] https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20220328-complex-redeployment-as-french-forces-in-mali-retreat-to-niger-operation-barkhane-sahel [7] https://www.analisidifesa.it/2023/07/golpe-in-niger-il-sahel-ci-presenta-il-conto-per-la-guerra-alla-libia-del-2011/#:~:text=Italy%20has%20military%20in%20 Libya%20and%20then%20in%20Italy. [8] https://www.analisidifesa.it/2023/07/golpe-in-niger-il-sahel-ci-presenta-il-conto-per-la-guerra-alla-libia-del-2011/#:~:text=Italy%20has%20military%20in%20 Libya%20and%20then%20in%20Italy. [9] https://africacenter.org/spotlight/mapping-disinformation-in-africa/ [10] https://twitter.com/casusbellii_cb/status/1627003037079183361 [11] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1444605/politique/mohamed-bazoum-armer-les-civils-pour-combattre-les-terroristes-est-une-tragique-erreur/ [12] https://apnews.com/article/wagner-group-mali-putin-russia-sanctions-e467af004ff9286629460455eb42b100 [13] https://www.reuters.com/article/niger-security-russia-lavrov-idAFS8N39B06R [14] https://www.orano.group/en [15] https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/niger.aspx [16] https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/A-guide-Uranium-in-Niger [17] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-66322914 [18] https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/uranium-mines-niger-worlds-7th-biggest-producer-2023-07-28/

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