Norms and Values
Global Strategic Issues Mirrored by Events in Niger

On July 26, 2023, a coup d'état in Niger happened, where a group of presidential guard soldiers led by General Omar Tchiani blocked the office of the incumbent head of state in the capital of the state, Niamey.

Niger, translated from the language of the southeastern Tuareg, means "great river", or "river of rivers". Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world; the West African country is part of the so-called "Sahel Five". It is a landlocked former French colony, most of its territory is located in the Sahara desert. Finally, Niger provides about 40% of the uranium for the French nuclear industry. It is Niger that today turned out to be central to the strategic interests of a number of global players.

Events in Niger developed rapidly. On July 27, the military of the Presidential Guard announced the removal of President Mohamed Bazoum, the closure of state borders, the introduction of a curfew, the suspension of all institutions in the country and the ban on any activity of political parties. A warning was made against attempts at foreign military intervention.

The pro-Western government of Mohamed Bazoum was replaced by the government of General Abdurrahman Tchiani, who declared himself chairman of the National Council for the Salvation of the Motherland. Niger's leading opposition party expressed its support for the new government, and thousands of protesting citizens marched to the French embassy in Niamey demanding the closure of foreign - American and French - military bases. The new government immediately declared its anti-Western position, its anti-colonial orientation, its orientation towards economic sovereignty and pro-Russian sentiments in the country. Mohamed Bazoum did not plan to participate in the Russia-Africa summit, adhering to a pro-Western position. After being removed from the presidency, Bazoum asked the United States to help return him to power, declaring his commitment to democratic values.

The assessment of events by different parties to the conflict varied. At the plenary session of the Russia-Africa Summit, which opened the day after the coup, the Chairman of the African Union, President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani said: "We strongly condemn the events in Niger and demand the immediate release of the President of the Republic of Niger and his family."

This position was supported by ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African Countries), which is known for its pro-Western orientation. ECOWAS suspended all commercial transactions with Niger, threatened to freeze the assets of the military involved in the coup, and closed the borders. According to sources, representatives of a number of ECOWAS countries have declared their readiness to provide troops for a military operation in Niger. In fact, ECOWAS acted as a pillar of Europe. On August 4, it became clear that the heads of the defence ministries of the West African countries had adopted a plan for intervention in Niger. The new government was given until August 6 to restore constitutional order and restore the former president. Otherwise, according to Reuters, troops may be sent into Niger to intervene.

However, this view does not reflect the positions of all African countries. Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea gave a different assessment of the events in Niger, emphasizing that Africa is freeing itself from Western dictates and the neo-colonial robbery of the continent by its former metropoles. They issued a statement that they would consider any military intervention in the internal affairs of Niger as a declaration of war against them. Algeria has adopted a corresponding policy, and this can be seen as serious support for Niger’s de facto leadership.

The European countries have condemned the coup in Niger. Thus, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said that Germany, under the circumstances, is suspending financial support for Niger (“We have suspended all direct support payments to the government of Niger”), and also stopped all assistance to the country, which was provided “for its development.” Spain, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom, has also called on Niger to restore the constitutional order and decided to suspend bilateral cooperation.

Immediately after the military coup, Niger and France "exchanged courtesies": France, which received 40% of uranium for its nuclear industry from Niger, suspended Niger's financial support programmes until constitutional order is restored in the country. The new authorities of Niger, in turn, suspended the export of uranium and gold to France.

The European countries have called for "the restoration of constitutional order" and "the release of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum." This consolidated reaction of European countries testifies the extreme interest of Europe in restoring the status quo in Niger, as well as in the African states associated with Niger, which are acting as a united front - “for” the new government of Niger and its anti-Western and anti-colonial policy, as well as “ against” Europe, which, despite the formal independence of African countries, continues to pursue a neo-colonial economic policy in Africa.

The situation is changing rapidly, so let's turn to sustainable trends.

In the early 2000s, the leaders of major European states were Jacques Chirac in France, Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. They were united by the idea of developing Europe using Russia as a resource base. It was the idea of "Greater Europe" – a Europe "from Lisbon to Vladivostok". These ideas were initially expressed by Charles de Gaulle.

The successful development of the Greater Europe project - the combination of cheap Russian resources and Western technology, the independence of the pursued policy and the unity in political decisions - presented a threat to US global hegemony, and America took a number of actions to neutralise this threat.

The most important action to block the Greater Europe project was the destruction of economic and political ties between Russia and the European Union. It was assumed that by the time the economic ties between Europe and Russia were broken off, the United States would replace Russian hydrocarbons with other sources. Hence the interest in American liquefied natural gas, which is transported by tankers and costs Europe much more than Russian pipeline gas.

The American strategy to eliminate its competitor and weaken Europe, to block the Greater Europe project, had a long-term character and a planning horizon which stretched decades into the future. The growth in hydrocarbon production in the United States, lobbying for the supply of American liquefied natural gas, the growing aggravation of the animosity between the Russian Federation, the European Union and the NATO bloc are links in the same chain.

What is the bottom line? What is the position of Europe today? The supply of energy carriers from Russia has been sharply reduced. The cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in Germany is about 4 times higher than the cost of a kilowatt-hour in the USA. As a result, the German economy (the technological and economic "locomotive" of the European Union) cannot compete with US enterprises and is being forced to transfer its production facilities from Europe to America. In fact, Europe has lost the status of a geopolitical entity that makes independent decisions. It can be said that the US strategic plan to weaken Europe, which began in the early 2000s, is going well. The positions in Africa of France and Europe, which were involved in the colonisation of the continent, are weakening, and in these processes one can notice the coincidence of internal African, essentially anti-neo-colonial decisions, and the strategic interests of the United States. At the same time, as is often the case in history, the interested party can remain in the shadows, does not always act with its own hands, and also pushes other participants in order to weaken them mutually.

At the same time, France, which generates electricity with its nuclear power plants (using uranium), has largely retained its economic position and advantages. This circumstance, if we recall the US strategy to weaken Europe and virtually eliminate competitors, makes France another target for the US.

We remember that Niger provides 25% of all uranium supplies to the EU countries and more than 35% of uranium for the nuclear industry of France. Now France, in fact, is in a hopeless situation. For it, the cessation of uranium supplies by the new government of Niger is tantamount to a declaration of war, similar to the Bailey incident. Without uranium from Niger, France will face an energy crisis and a decline in economic development, which will lead to a situation similar to what is happening now with the German economy, and will create the preconditions for a direct armed conflict in Africa.

So, as a result of the coup and the coming to power of an anti-European government in Niger, Europe is losing its positions in this African region. The matter not only concerns minerals (primarily uranium, without which the French nuclear industry may face a crisis). For the French economy, the cessation of uranium exports from Niger is a disaster.

The point is also the blocking of another project, which Europe, following its rejection of Russian hydrocarbons, had pinned great hopes on. This is the 5,660 km long NMGP (Nigeria Morocco Gas Pipeline project), which, according to the project, is the longest underwater gas pipeline in the world. In the summer of 2018, the National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of Nigeria and the National Authority for Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) of Morocco signed a partnership agreement. The Nigeria-Morocco-Europe gas pipeline, which should pass through the territory of Niger, is an alternative to gas supplies from Russia and is designed to support the European economy. Europe hurried Nigeria, realising that its economic well-being depended on relatively cheap natural gas. Will the new government of Niger allow a gas pipeline to Europe through its territory, given the pronounced anti-European orientation of its policy? It is a problem.

And here the fun begins. What geometric figure, symbolising the number of stakeholders - “players”, are we dealing with? What are the relations between them, what connections, paradoxes and contradictions can we observe in the situation with the military coup in Niger? Let's look at the example of the construction of the NMGP gas pipeline.

So, if the gas pipeline is not built, or its construction is delayed/slowed down, who will lose? Europe, whose economy is already in decline without Russian hydrocarbons. And who wins? The notorious American liquefied natural gas (LNG). The strengthening of Europe is contrary to the interests of the "new mother country" - the United States, which is interested in blocking any alternative projects that can compete economically and/or politically with America. Africa, as the situation with the coup in Niger has shown, is not homogeneous. For that part of it that is interested in making a profit from the sale and transit of gas through its territories to Europe, it is not profitable. For those African countries for which the fight against neo-colonialism and sovereignty is a priority, it is beneficial.

If the former government with its pro-European policy is restored in Niger (peacefully or militarily, it is not yet known), the likelihood of it building a gas pipeline increases. Who benefits? Certainly Europe. Who doesn't benefit? America. And Africa? That part of it, which has relied on cooperation with Europe at the cost of its sovereignty, profits. Those countries of the continent that seek to defend their sovereignty, who want to resist neo-colonial strategies - no.

So, Europe, the USA, the pro-European countries of Africa, and countries which are more interested in sovereignty are entering the next round of the "anti-neo-colonial" struggle. [There is certainly a simplification in dividing African countries into pro-Western (pro-European) and anti-Western. Therefore, we emphasise that we have in mind only the specific situation and policy in relation to the situation around Niger.] But the geometric figure that we announced has another side, and that is Russia. Is it beneficial for Russia to strengthen Europe's positions in Africa? No. Especially in the situation of the most severe sanctions policy of the European Union in the context of anti-Russian military-political decisions. Just like America is not interested in strengthening Europe. America in the current situation behaves to some extent as an outside observer, although it is Washington who is the main beneficiary. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on August 4 announced a partial reduction in financial support for Niger, but this measure does not apply to humanitarian and food initiatives. We see the paradoxical coincidence of the interests of Russia and the United States in the weakening of Europe's position in Africa. But there should be no illusions that this can serve as at least some basis for partnership, and we should not forget that Russia for the United States is part of the same rebellious "periphery" that has declared its claims to sovereignty . America is interested in weakening Russia's positions in Africa. Furthermore, in the current situation with Niger, we will need will and wisdom not to weaken, but to maintain and strengthen our positions in Africa.

What African solutions is Russia interested in? Traditionally, Russia has always supported the anti-colonial struggle of the countries of the African continent, and now, at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin declared his support for African countries in their move for sovereignty. Thus, the desire of the people of Niger for sovereignty and refusal to exploit France's resources of the country finds support from Russia. As for those African countries that choose their own path, there is an excellent formula: "African problem/s - an African solution", and Russia recognises the right of African countries to make their own choice. We will do our best to become a strong and reliable partner for the African countries, with whom they will go along the way. And if Russia strengthens its position in Niger and in the countries of the region consolidated with it, will this be a strengthening of its negotiating position and a lever of pressure in resolving a number of other acute global issues?

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.