By Oyetunji Abioye
On July 26, the military struck in the Niger Republic and removed Mohammed Bazoum who assumed office as the democratically elected President of the country in April 2021. The forces appointed the Commander of the country’s presidential guard, Abdourahamane Tiani, as the Head of State. Despite sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States and the pressure from the West, the junta has refused to relinquish power.
ECOWAS has also threatened military intervention in the country, but the junta remained adamant. In this interview with OYETUNJI ABIOYE, the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Alexei Shebarshin, argues that military intervention will not yield positive results
The new military leaders have reportedly called for the assistance of the Wagner Mercenary Group. Will the Russian government be opposed to approving the services of Wagner for Niger?
As you probably know, Wagner has nothing to do with the Russian government. Russia does not control this organisation. The Wagner group has officially left the territory of Russia. We cannot approve or disapprove of the actions of this organisation. It is independent and outside the jurisdiction of Russia. However, I will reiterate the words of our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov: Niger needs to restore constitutional order. The constitutional order can be restored only by the means provided for by the constitution of the country and only by the efforts of the people of this country itself. The intervention of external factors in such situations rarely leads to something good.
Protesters in Niger have been raising Russian flags, indicating the people of Niger want their government to form a new military, and security alliance with Russia. Already, the new government has terminated its military/security assistance with France, indicating it is open and willing to sign new agreements. Will Russia be willing to sign a security support agreement with the new government if the leaders reach out to the Russian government?
In looking for ways to resolve the conflict in Niger, we continue to rely on the African-solutions-to-African-problems approach. We support the mediation efforts undertaken by the African community to help the Nigeriens overcome the crisis. At the same time, we believe that an intervention by the troops of the Economic Community of West African States is unlikely to contribute to achieving lasting peace in Niger, neither by any other state. There are no conditions for any agreement with any country now – at first Niger should settle down, and then as an independent state, could forge any alliance or agreement with any state it likes. But again, “the African solutions to African problems.”
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has accused Russia and Wagner mercenaries of taking advantage of the Niger crisis. Is Russia guilty of these allegations?
It’s amazing how badly US departments interact with each other. The fact is that even the Pentagon said on August 8 that there is no sign of Russia or the Wagner group being involved in the events in Niger. I will quote for you the words of Pentagon Spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, “We have seen no indications that they [Wagner] had anything to do with the events in Niger and have not seen any assistance so far flows in from Wagner forces to Niger at this time.’’ Therefore, probably, Anthony Blinkin should somehow discuss this with the Pentagon. And I want to tell you again that the Wagner group has nothing to do with the Russian Government and had since left the territory of Russia.
ECOWAS met in Abuja and endorsed the use of military action in Niger. The body, however, said it was open to talks if the junta agreed to do that.
We welcome the fact that ECOWAS is open to dialogue. Any conflict must be resolved peacefully through meaningful and diligent negotiations. The fact that all the participants in the conflict do not take up arms, but try to reach an agreement and understand each other, is an indicator of the maturity and wisdom of leaders who, first of all, strive to save human lives and prevent bloodshed.
The new military regime in the Republic of Niger has reportedly called on Russia for support after the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to use military action if the new regime failed to hand over power to the ousted leader, Mohamed Bazoum. The world will like to know if Russia will offer to give security support to the new Nigerien military leaders. Already, Russia has reportedly offered security support as well as diplomatic backing to new military leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso. We want to know if this will happen with the new military leaders in the Republic of Niger. Don’t also forget that ECOWAS defence chiefs have met on this matter and the region’s standby force has been put on alert in the event diplomatic discussions end in a deadlock.
Russia opposes a military solution to the conflict. Russia has no plans to use its armed forces in Niger. The people of Niger should solve their problems independently in a constitutional manner without any resort to force or threat to use it.