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Russia distances itself from Niger coup, seeks restoration of constitutional order

A file image of protestors in Niamey (Image courtesy: Twitter/@SpriterTeam)

A day after videos showing protesters in Niger chanting pro-Russia and anti-France slogans went viral on social media, Moscow on Monday reacted cautiously saying that it remains seriously concerned about the situation in the West African nation and hopes for prompt restoration of the rule of law in the country.

Niger President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a military coup led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the country’s presidential guard, on July 26 in fresh trouble for the terror-infested Sahel region. The activities of state institutions have been suspended, borders have been closed, and a curfew has been introduced throughout the country.

“We are monitoring it the situation in Niger very closely, especially in the context of the fact that over the past week we have actually been very closely involved in African affairs together with the Africans. Of course, what is happening there is of serious concern,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told local media on Monday.

The Kremlin’s reaction comes as Russia wrapped up the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg last week which was attended by representatives of 49 countries, including 17 heads of state.

“We are in favour of the prompt restoration of the rule of law in the country. We are in favour of restraint on all sides, which would help avoid casualties. Of course, we want Niger to restore constitutional order as soon as possible and to continue to work for coping with the enormous tasks that face that country on the way of its development,” added Peskov.

On Sunday, thousands of protestors gathered outside the French embassy in the country’s capital Niamey, waving Russian flags and chanting slogans against the French who ruled the landlocked country until 1960 and still retain a significant influence through numerous agreements.

Interestingly, the Yevgeny Prigozhin-led Wagner group, which continues to increase its influence in the region, including in the Central African Republic (CAR) and neighbouring Mali, has hailed Niger’s military coup.

Peskov, however, made it clear that the Kremlin’s assessment of the situation in Niger and Prigozhin’s words about what is happening in that country should not be put in the same semantic row.

Meanwhile, France has called for an end to the “unacceptable violence” observed on Sunday, stating that the security of its diplomatic premises in Niamey lies with the host State with the Nigerien forces having an obligation to ensure the security under the Vienna Conventions.

Paris said that democratically-elected by the people of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum is the only President of Niger and France does not recognize the authorities resulting from the putsch led by General Tchiani.

With Niger holding large reserves of uranium, as many as 30 French companies are active in the country covering all economic sectors, particularly in services, distribution and in the mining sector.

Niger mainly imports from France electrical equipment, computers and equipment and pharmaceutical products. In return, the first three Nigerien products exported to France are: non-ferrous metals, metal ores and various chemical products.

France’s state-owned Orano is reportedly still continuing with its uranium mining activities in the north of the country despite the coup.

“Present for nearly fifty years in the country, through the control of three uranium mines of which only one is in operation, the multinational owned by the French State indicates that at this stage its activities are not disturbed by the situation,” said a report in leading French daily Le Monde.

In a series of fast developments, several reports cited that the interim Niger Prime Minister Hassoumi Massoudou has also given France permission to strike at the presidential palace.