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Situation in Niger alarming, war could destabilise Africa’s Sahara-Sahel region warns Russia

Nigerian troops during a counter-insurgency operation in the country's North East, last week (Image courtesy: Nigerian Army)

The Niger conflict is showing signs of further escalation with Russia on Friday warning that any military solution to the crisis in the coup-ridden country could lead to more trouble in the already terror-infested Sahel region of the African continent.

General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the commander of the country’s presidential guard, ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 – the seventh military takeover in the region since 2020.

The security environment became more worrying as the Niger’s new military leaders ignored a seven-day deadline given by West African bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to put an end to their coup.

On August 10, at an extraordinary summit in Abuja, the community decided to prepare for the deployment of ECOWAS reserve forces that could carry out an armed invasion of Niger in order to free Bazum.

After the meeting, Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara was quoted as saying that the deployment of the “standby force” to restore constitutional order in Niger should take place “as soon as possible”.

The ‘Extraordinary Summit’ was also attended by the presidents of Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo who reiterated their determination to ensure the restoration of constitutional and democratic order in Niger and the release of President Bazoum and his family.

With things looking to get out of control, India too on Friday asked its nationals “whose presence is not essential” to leave Niger “as soon as possible” in light of the prevailing situation in the West African nation.

“When departing through a land border, utmost precautions may be taken to ensure safety and security,” said an advisory issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The government strongly advised all those Indian nationals who have not registered with the Indian Embassy in capital Niamey to do so expeditiously.

“Indian nationals can reach emergency contact in the Embassy of India, Niamey (+ 227 9975 9975) for any assistance,” the advisory detailed.

According to the MEA, there are around 200 Indian nationals residing in Niamey. They are largely engaged in trading, hospitality and service sectors.

A few hours later, Russia, while expressing its support to the mediation efforts of ECOWAS aimed at finding ways out of the current crisis, expressed concern over preparation for the deployment of ECOWAS reserve forces that could carry out an armed invasion of Niger.

“We believe that a military solution to the crisis in Niger could lead to a protracted confrontation in this African country, as well as to a sharp destabilization of the situation in the Sahara-Sahel region as a whole,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement.

At the same time, both Burkina Faso and Mali, suspended from the regional economic bloc following similar military takeovers, have warned that any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against them as well.

Burkina Faso’s interim president Ibrahim Traore, who seized power in September, was recently given a hero’s welcome on returning home after participating in the second Russia–Africa summit at Saint Petersburg and meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Constantine Palace on July 29.

On the other hand, France – which ruled the landlocked country until 1960 and still retains a major influence over the uranium-rich territory – has also made it clear that democratically-elected by the people of Niger, Bazoum is the only President of Niger and Paris does not recognise the authorities resulting from the coup led by General Tchiani.