RRussia has sent an air defense system and 100 military trainers to Niger, West Africa. The Russian Defense Ministry's military personnel should install the system and train Nigerien soldiers in how to use it, the Nigerien state broadcaster RTN reported on Thursday evening. This was preceded by a phone call between junta leader Abdourahamane Tiani and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of March.

Until the military coup last July, Niger was the last democratic ally of European states and the USA in the strategically important Sahel region in West Africa, where Islamist terrorist groups are spreading. In March, the junta ended its military cooperation with the USA in the fight against terrorism. The Bundeswehr operates an air transport base in Niamey, the future of which is still unclear.

State television showed images of an Ilyushin 76 plane that landed at Niamey airport on Wednesday. “We are here to train the army of Niger using the military equipment that has arrived here,” a hooded, light-skinned man in a military uniform said to the camera in accented French.

Niger has embarked on a new path since the military seized power on July 26, leading to the diversification of its partners to assert its sovereignty to the world, the post continued. Putin and Tiani discussed “strengthening cross-sectoral and comprehensive strategic cooperation between Niger and Russia to address current threats, especially in the security area.”

Like its neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is turning away from its Western partners, especially former colonial power France, and towards Russia. All three countries have been ruled by the military since coups. In Mali, Russian military personnel who came to the country as mercenaries from the Wagner Group in 2021 and are also officially referred to as trainers are fighting alongside the army against insurgents.

The former mercenaries are now subordinate to the “Africa Corps” of the Russian Ministry of Defense. The first 100 Russian military personnel landed in Burkina Faso in January, with 200 more to follow. The three states have joined forces in the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) and are pursuing an ever closer common foreign and security policy.