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Wagner Group and Russian agencies behind uprising, says ex-official, as Prigozhin appears in Africa

Wagner and the Russian state conspired to facilitate the military coup in Niger, a former Russian official has claimed, after mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin released a video message from an undisclosed African country – his first since leading a failed uprising in June.

“The recent coup in Niger was carried out in close cooperation of Russian special services and Private Military Company (PMC) consultants,” claimed Russian military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk, a former press officer for Russia’s defence ministry who uses the alias “Rybar”.

This cooperation between Russia and Wagner meant it was “extremely reckless to talk about any severing of ties” following the mutiny, the blogger claimed.

A military junta took power in Niger last month, overthrowing the government of President Mohamed Bazoum and keeping him under house arrest at the president’s residence in capital city Niamey.

The coup was condemned by regional and international powers, which have imposed sanctions and threatened military action to oust the new regime led by General Abdourahamane Tiani.

FILE PHOTO: General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023. REUTERS/Balima Boureima/File Photo
General Abdourahmane Tiani has assumed power in Niger as head of the military junta (Photo: Reuters)

Western analysts have suggested Russia may have played a part in the unrest without offering evidence. Coup leaders requested support from Wagner, and Mr Prigozhin said his men were ready to provide it.

Pro-coup protesters in Niger have been seen waving Russian flags in demonstrations and chanting against former colonial rulers France, which has more than 1,000 troops in the country as part of counter-terror operations in the Sahel region.

Mr Prigozhin released a video message yesterday from an undisclosed location that Russian media reported to be in Mali, also in the Sahel region.

NIAMEY, NIGER - AUGUST 20: Coup supporters wave flags during the protest against a possible military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc and sanctions in Niamey, Niger on August 20, 2023. Some protesters at the demonstration carried Russian flags. (Photo by Balima Boureima/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Coup supporters wave Russian flags at a demonstration in Niamey, Niger’s capital (Photo: Getty)

Wagner has a long-established presence in several countries in Africa including Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR), where it is implicated in a string of war crimes.

“PMC Wagner… makes Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa more free,” he said in his first public video since leading the brief march on Moscow, followed by exile to Belarus.

“We’re recruiting real heroes and continue to carry out the tasks that have been set and that we promised to deal with.”

But Mark Galeotti, a political analyst and author on Russian security affairs, suggested that the group’s influence was exaggerated and questioned its long-term viability.

“There is no serious evidence suggesting any Russian role in the coup [in Niger],” he told i.

Wagner has been weakened after the coup attempt – including by the loss of its media holdings – and may struggle to replicate its previous influence in Africa, Dr Galeotti added.

“Part of Wagner’s appeal was that it was part of Concord, a conglomerate offering all sorts of services and that is now being ripped apart,” he said.

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