As the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) put military on standby for intervention in Niger against the country's military rulers, Russia warned against any intervention and said it would lead to "protracted confrontation".
Late last month, Niger's military ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and General Abdourahmane Tchiani took over as the country's leader.
The ECOWAS issued a deadline to Niger's military for the restoration of democracy that expired last Sunday. Following the expiration, the bloc put a force on standby. The bloc says it is open to a diplomatic solution but a military intervention is on the table. The mobilisation with he standby order has also raised the stakes.
The Sahel region, in which Niger is located, is infested with a raging jihadist movement and insurgency where Al Qaeda- and ISIS-affiliated groups are active. Countries like Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali have been highly affected by the jihadist violence.
ECOWAS puts military on standby
After the deadline to Niger's military expired, the ECOWAS met in Nigeria's Abuja on Thursday called for a deployment of a military force of the bloc "to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger", said a statement by Omar Alieu Touray, President, ECOWAS Commission.
The scope of the force or the timeline of potential military intervention were not immediately clear.
While it mobilised for potential military intervention, the bloc also emphasised on "determination to keep all options on the table for the peaceful resolution of the crisis", as per CNN.
"ECOWAS leaders have said their preference is to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and would send in troops as a last resort...Several analysts told CNN that a military intervention in Niger would probably not be imminent, as it takes time to assemble the ECOWAS troops...Another expert recalled that it took seven weeks for ECOWAS to deploy to Gambia in 2017 – a less complicated mission than Niger would be," reported CNN.
The bloc also has some internal divisions as three member-countries have also had military rulers, where coups took place in recent years, and these countries back Niger. These countries are Mali and Burkina Faso and Guinea has also said it supports Niger's junta.
"Mali and Burkina Faso, led by soldiers who seized power, have expressed solidarity with Niger’s junta and warned that any military intervention would be seen as a declaration of war. Guinea has also said it backs Niger," reported CNN.
Russia warns against military intervention
Russia has warned ECOWAS against any military intervention in Niger to restore democracy. However, it does not formally support the coup.
After ECOWAS announced it's putting a force on standby, Russia warned it of "protracted confrontation" that would destabilise the entire Sahel region.
Even before the announcement of a standby force, Russia had been opposed to the idea of intervention.
"Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexey Zaitsev expressed Moscow's 'hope that the decision will be found within the framework of a diplomatic settlement'. And he reiterated Russia's 'negative attitude to any forceful methods'," reported Newsweek.
Demonstrators supporting the coup in Niger have waved Russian flags in recent days in protest against France, the country's former colonial rulers. France and the United States have military bases in Niger from where they operate against the jihadists in the region.
"On Friday coup supporters, some waving Russian flags, protested at a French military base near the capital NIamey, some chanting 'down with France, down with ECOWAS'," reported BBC.
A report said that while there is no indication that Russia or Wagner Group, which has been active in Africa for years, played a role in the coup, the might definitely try to capitalise the emerging situation. This is also visible in how pro-Russia demonstrators have appeared in Niger.
"U.S. officials have said there were no indications that Russia or its leading private military company, the Wagner Group, played any role in Niger's upheaval. At the same time, they have alleged that the Kremlin and Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin may seek to capitalize on the unrest," reported Newsweek.
A report further said that a senior Niger official sought support from Russia after the coup.
The Associated Press (AP) has reported that Niger's Deputy CNSP leader requested aid from Wagner Group during visits to neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin also welcomed the military takeover of Niger.