Russia Sends Military Trainers and Air-defence System to Niger, Says Niger State TV

RTN/Handout via REUTERS
An unidentified purported Russian military trainer speaks to the media next to an airplane, in Niamey, Niger, April 10, 2024, in this still image obtained from a video.

NIAMEY (Reuters) – Military instructors and personnel from Russia’s defence ministry arrived in Niger on Wednesday, Niger state television RTN said, in a further sign the West African country is building closer relations with Moscow like its junta-led neighbours.

In a Thursday broadcast, RTN showed footage of a military cargo plane unloading gear as people in fatigues stood by. It said the deployment followed a recent agreement between Niger’s junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin to boost cooperation.

“We are here to train the Nigerien army … (and) to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger,” said a man in camouflage uniform, who RTN said was one of the instructors.

The man had a neck gaiter pulled up over most of his face while he spoke on camera.

RTN also said Russia had agreed to install an anti-aircraft system in Niger. “Our airspace will now be better protected,” the broadcaster said.

There was no immediate comment from Russia, which has been seeking to boost its influence in Africa, promoting itself as a friendly country without a colonial background on the continent.

The arrival of Russian instructors follows Niger’s decision in mid-March to revoke its military accord with the United States that had allowed Pentagon personnel to operate on its soil out of two bases, including a drone base it built at a cost of more than $100 million.

The Pentagon later said U.S. officials had expressed concerns to Niger about its potential development of ties with Russia before the junta broke off the accord governing roughly 1,000 U.S. military personnel there.

Since 2020, a string of military coups in Niger and neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have followed a similar playbook and reshaped international efforts to curb a decade-old fight with Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The three juntas have ended military deals with longstanding allies including France, fostered closer ties with Russia, and formed their own cooperation pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

Violence in the region has worsened since the coups. It hit a high in 2023, with conflict fatalities in the central Sahel rising by 38% compared with the previous year, according to U.S.-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED, citing reports of over 8,000 people killed in Burkina Faso alone last year.

The instability has fuelled a long-running humanitarian crisis in the region bordering the Sahara desert, already one of the world’s poorest. As of March, over 3 million people were displaced there, the International Organization of Migration said on Monday.