Russia has warned that military intervention in Niger by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) would lead to a “protracted confrontation” and destabilize the wider Sahel region. The Russian foreign ministry said that such an intervention would be a “grave mistake” and would only serve to prolong the crisis in Niger.
Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s president and chairman of ECOWAS said, “The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa”. The Niger military is blaming the government’s incompetence and finding it incompatible to fight the terrorism which is growing in the Sahel.
According to the communique read by ECOWAS President Omar Touray, the leaders noted that “all diplomatic efforts made by ECOWAS, in resolving the crisis have been defiantly repelled by the military leadership of the Republic of Niger.” They also took “note of the expiration of the one-week ultimatum given for the restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.” As part of their decisions, the ECOWAS leaders directed “the Committee of the Chief of defence staff to activate the ECOWAS standby force with all its elements immediately.”They also ordered “the deployment of the ECOWAS standby force to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.”
The US, which backs efforts to restore deposed leader Mohamed Bazoum, has also threatened military intervention against Niger. The US says that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is taking advantage of the instability in Niger to further its own interests in the region.
On Friday, coup supporters, some waving Russian flags, protested at a French military base near the capital Niamey.
Both France and the US operate military bases in Niger and they have been used to launch operations against jihadist groups in the wider region.
Military officials from Ecowas countries are reportedly set to meet on Saturday to draft plans for a military intervention in Niger.
The bloc has said it remains open to finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu said on Thursday that “No option is taken off the table, including the use of force as a last resort”.
The US has not explicitly backed military action but has called on the junta to step aside and allow the restoration of the country’s democratic constitution.
The Niger junta has not responded to the latest statements from Ecowas leaders.
The situation in Niger remains fluid and it is unclear what the next steps will be. However, it is clear that the international community is divided on how to best address the crisis.
The Niger military is well-armed and experienced, having fought against jihadists in the Sahel region for many years. The ECOWAS forces are also well-armed and experienced, but they are stretched thin by deployments in other countries in the region.
The conflict will likely take place in a remote and difficult-to-access part of Niger, which makes it difficult for either side to gain an advantage. The outcome of such a conflict is uncertain, but it is clear that it will have a significant impact on the future of Niger.