US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has raised concerns over the potential exploitation of instability in coup-hit Niger by Russia’s Wagner mercenaries. Despite doubts that Wagner was directly involved in the ousting of Niger’s elected president, Blinken emphasized the need to prevent the group from capitalizing on the situation and creating further turmoil.
This warning comes as neighboring Mali strengthens its ties with Moscow, raising questions about the influence of Wagner in the region. The Wagner Group, a notorious private military organization with alleged ties to Russia, has faced widespread accusations of human rights abuses and disruptive activities in various countries.
Most recently, the group’s involvement in a shadowy rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin prompted international attention. In an interview with the BBC, Blinken acknowledged the potential dangers posed by Wagner’s exploitation of instability in Niger, as has been observed in other nations where the group has operated.
Niger faced a coup in July, with the military ousting the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Blinken expressed skepticism about Wagner’s direct involvement in the coup but underscored the risk of the group taking advantage of the situation.
He warned that similar to its track record in other countries, the Wagner Group could bring about negative consequences, including death, destruction, and exploitation, if not effectively countered.
Mali’s Diplomatic Shift and Wagner’s Role
One of the key concerns lies in Mali’s shifting diplomatic alignment with Russia. Amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Mali has increasingly leaned towards Russia, forming partnerships that have raised eyebrows in Western circles.
Wagner’s involvement in Mali’s military affairs, especially during the Ukraine war, has prompted accusations of ruthless actions and abuses. The fear is that Mali’s association with Wagner could have broader implications for stability in the region.
Mali and Burkina Faso, two neighboring countries, have shown solidarity with the coup leaders in Niger, raising concerns about potential ties to Wagner. The involvement of these countries’ military leaders and their association with the private military group has ignited speculation about the extent of Wagner’s influence in the region.
Niger has long served as a critical base for US and French anti-jihadist operations in the Sahel region. With the withdrawal of international forces from Mali, Niger’s importance in the fight against extremism has increased.
Acting deputy for Blinken Victoria Nuland traveled to Niger to meet with military chiefs and stress the dangers of cooperating with Wagner. The US aims to ensure that the stability and security of the Sahel region are not compromised by external actors.
Source: The Journal