Chaos is spreading in western Africa after Niger was taken over by a military junta July 26th.
After the coup, Russian flags were seen waving throughout the capital. One was even put atop the French embassy, which had to be evacuated after it was attacked.
The U.S. has also ordered a partial evacuation of its embassy.
The Russian flags are a clear sign that Niger and a number of African nations have a new ally. And while the Wagner Group’s status in Russia remains unclear after its failed uprising against the Russian military leadership, Vladimir Putin is still using Wagner mercenaries to change the political landscape in Africa for Russia’s benefit.
AP Correspondent Sam Mednick said, “Already on the streets of Niamey, in the capital, people have been outside, waving Russian flags, saying that they welcome Wagner, they want Russia to come and they want the French to leave.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is operating in several African nations. And where the Wagner Group goes, trouble usually follows.
Surveillance photos from the French military showed Wagner mercenaries burying bodies in Mali, where the group is believed to have massacred more than 500 people last year.
The Russian private army, known for its atrocities in Ukraine and designated a “Transnational Criminal Organization” by the U.S. government, has taken its dirty work to Africa, where it has offered its services to a number of governments, expanding Kremlin influence on the continent.
South African Wagner expert Pauline Bax with the International Crisis Group says the Russian mercenaries only go where they’re invited, providing services African leaders want.
“It’s not that Wagner just comes in and rolls into a country and does whatever it wants,” Bax said. “It does this with the approval and often with the blessing of the ruling elites. They provide private security to the people in power, offering military training to the army.”
“It’s basically an organized crime syndicate that is operating on behest of the Russian government,” says retired FBI Agent Eric Caron, who is now a security consultant for several African nations.
“They’re essentially Russia’s KGB, operating throughout Africa, committing crimes, committing murder,” Caron said.
Western Africa now faces a possible war, after a coalition of West African States vowed to restore Niger’s president to power, while Mali and Burkina Faso vow to defend the new military government.
At the recent Russia Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, the military leader of Burkina Faso seemed very pleased to have his photo taken with Vladimir Putin.
Whether there will be war or peace in Africa, the new winner is Russia, typified by signs held by protestors in Niger that say, “Down with France, Long live Putin.”