Russia has warned that military intervention in Niger would lead to a “protracted confrontation” after regional bloc Ecowas said it would assemble a standby force.
Such an intervention would destabilise the Sahel region as a whole, the Russian foreign ministry said.
Russia does not formally back the coup, BBC News reported.
But the US, which backs efforts to restore deposed leader Mohamed Bazoum, says its Wagner mercenary group is taking advantage of the instability.
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”.
Both France and the US operate military bases in Niger and they have been used to launch operations against jihadist groups in the wider region.
Military officials from Ecowas countries are reportedly set to meet on Saturday to draft plans for a military intervention.
The bloc has said it remains open to finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu said on Thursday that “No option is taken off the table, including the use of force as a last resort”.
The US has not explicitly backed military action but has called on the junta to step aside and allow the restoration of the country’s democratic constitution.
The Niger junta has not responded to the latest statements from Ecowas leaders.
ECOWAS Cautions Russia against Involvement of Wagner Group
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said that it will hold Russia responsible if a private military contractor of the Eastern European nation, Wagner Group, gets involved in the crisis in the Republic of Niger.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, said this in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily Friday.
Musah noted that another West African nation had a separate arrangement with the private military security outfit from Russia.
The official of the West African bloc further warned the Wagner Group against violating human rights in the wake of the coup in the Niger Republic.
“The Wagner Group, apparently, is in Mali today. The Malian government says this is an agreement between them and the Russian Federation,” Musah said.
“We want to take them by their word, which means any sort of action that infringes on human rights or yeah, or devastation in our region by these private military contractors, we are going to hold the other countries of our region responsible for that.”
Musah was asked if he was referring to Russia, to which the ECOWAS official replied, “That’s Russia (we will hold them) responsible diplomatically. The West African region is just not Russia.”
According to Musah, private military companies have been a feature of the African conflict scene for so many years.
“Private military companies were involved in Sierra Leone. They were involved in Liberia during those civil wars, long ago. And even recently, in the global conflict, there has been the use of private military companies,” he said.
“The Americans are using them in Iraq; in Afghanistan, they use them, and others. What we are seeing is that these groups are not acceptable in Africa, even though they are there, and we are going to hold their countries of origin responsible for any violations.”
In related news, Musah said that the ousted Niger president Mohamed Bazoum and his son being held by the country’s coup leaders, are living under appalling circumstances.
“We are going there, if need be, to rescue President Bazoum, who is living in very terrible conditions today. He is being denied medical attention, he’s being denied even access to his usual food,” he said.
“His son, who is also in detention, has lost so many kilos already. They are being held in these inhumane conditions and we cannot just sit back idle and depend on the goodwill of these people who are disrupting the democratic process in the country.”