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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Niger’s junta on Monday scrapped two key military agreements that the West African nation signed with the European Union to help fight the violence in Africa’s Sahel region as the country’s army leaders and a senior Russian defense official discussed military cooperation.
Before the coup that deposed the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger had been the West and Europe’s last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that Islamic extremist groups have turned into the global terror hot spot.
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In a memo, Niger’s foreign affairs ministry said the government has decided to “withdraw the privileges and immunities granted” under the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger that was launched in February and consequently “has no legal obligation” related to that partnership.
It also dismissed the EU Civilian Capacity-Building Mission established in 2012 to strengthen Niger’s internal security sector, effectively revoking its approval for the missions.
The EU and West have lost their last security partner in the Sahel, as Niger announced a new alliance with Russia.
The developments are the latest in growing political tensions between Niger and the EU since the July coup.
In a rare visit on Sunday, a Russian delegation led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Lounous-Bek Evkourov met with Niger’s junta leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, and Minister of State for National Defense Salifou Mody. The two sides held more meetings on Monday to discuss military and defense issues.
“At the center of the discussions is the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense,” Niger’s defense ministry said in a statement, hinting at formal political ties with Moscow, which has no embassy or military personnel in the country.
Most of Niger’s foreign economic and security allies have sanctioned the country, including France, which had 1,500 troops operating in Niger. All of them have been asked to leave.
Analysts say that although regional and international sanctions to force the junta to reverse its coup have squeezed the country, they have also emboldened the military government as it consolidates its hold on power and seeks new partnerships.
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Russia has been active in parts of Africa through its private mercenary Wagner Group, from the Central African Republic, where the mercenary forces have helped provide security services to the government, to Mali, where they are partnering with the army in battling armed rebels and where the Evkourov-led delegation also visited.
The Wagner group was one of the first sources of help that the military leaders in Niger reached out to for support as they faced a possible military intervention from West Africa’s regional bloc of ECOWAS in a bid to reverse the coup.