Russian Military Instructors Land in Niger Amid Declining Relations with the US

This week, Russian military instructors landed in Niger to bolster the nation’s air defenses as the country shifts from relying on the United States for counterterrorism to seeking security support from Russia. Broadcast by Niger’s state television, footage showed the instructors arriving with military supplies. One instructor stated their mission was to train the Nigerien army and enhance military cooperation between Russia and Niger.

The arrival of Russian forces complicates the presence of U.S. military and personnel, creating uncertainty around future joint Niger-U.S. counterinsurgency efforts. Previously, the U.S. viewed Niger as a crucial ally in the Sahel region, heavily investing in training Nigerien forces to combat insurgencies linked to al-Qaida and ISIS. However, relations have deteriorated following a coup last summer by some U.S.-trained forces.

After a visit from a U.S. delegation led by Molly Phee, Niger’s military junta declared U.S. operations from a local airbase illegal and criticized U.S. pressures to shun cooperation with Russia and Iran. A senior U.S. official indicated that the U.S. is exploring options to revise military cooperation, hoping to find a mutual agreement.

The Russian military support is part of Niger’s strategy to diversify its partnerships and assert greater sovereignty, particularly over its airspace, possibly prompting the U.S. to reconsider its strategy in the region. With ongoing regional insurgencies, the geopolitical dynamics in Niger pose significant challenges for U.S. and Russian involvement.