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Wagner group taking advantage of instability after Niger military coup: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

"Every single place that this Wagner group has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the group's involvement with Niger coup leaders.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Washington Updated on: August 08, 2023 21:12 IST
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Image Source : AP US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Amid political instability in Niger following a military coup last week, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday accused Russia's Wagner mercenary coup of 'taking advantage' of the crisis situation.

Notably, the coup leaders in Niger have defied a deadline set by a regional economic bloc called ECOWAS for the release and reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and have reportedly sought the assistance of Wagner forces, who were previously involved in an armed rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think what happened, and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner, but... they tried to take advantage of it. Every single place that this Wagner group has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed," Blinken told BBC.

He further said that the US was worried about the mercenary group "possibly manifesting itself" in other parts of the West African region, particularly Mali and Burkina Faso, who have supported the coup in Niger, saying that insecurity has "gone up".

The US has around 1,000 military forces in Niger as part of counterterrorism operations against Islamist groups operating in the Sahel region. France also has 1,500 military personnel in the newly military-controlled country.

On the other hand, thousands of Wagner fighters are believed to be stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, where they have lucrative business interests as well as boosting Russia's diplomatic and economic ties. Wagner is said to have set its targets on Niger for a long time as the country is a major producer of uranium, a key component of nuclear arsenals.

Wagner’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier described the coup as part of Niger’s fight against the “colonizers.” “It effectively means winning independence. The rest will depend on the people of Niger, on how efficient they could govern,” Prigozhin had said in a statement.

Niger rejects latest diplomatic attempt to reinstate Bazoum

Meanwhile, Niger's military junta on Tuesday rejected a proposed visit by representatives of the West African regional bloc, the African Union and United Nations, citing “evident reasons of security in this atmosphere of menace" against the country.

Niger was a crucial Western ally and a last defense against extremist attacks by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the conflict-torn West African region.

US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland held "difficult and frank" talks with coup leaders in NIger, and said that the military understoof the risks of working with the mercenary group. "These conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult because, again, we are pushing for a negotiated solution. It was not easy to get traction there. They are quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed," she said.

(with AP inputs)

ALSO READ | West African leaders to convene in Nigerian capital on Thursday after Niger coup leaders defy deadline

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