Members of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization, may be heading next to the West African nation of Niger following a military coup in that country last week, Andres Unga, head of the Africa and Middle East office at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says.
Appearing on ETV program "Ringvaade suvel," Unga said that there had been signs of hope for Niger progressing down the route of a more democratic order until last week's coup, the fourth in recent years.
Demonstrators on the streets of Niamey have been seen waving the Russian flag, a development which Unga said was not clear in its origins – adding that some conclusions can be drawn based on what had been occurring in the region prior to the coup.
"If we take a look at the countries bordering Niger – for example Mali – where there was a similar coup, or if we look at the Central African Republic, both of these have demonstrated hallmarks of the activities of the Wagner Group; these flags don't just emerge on the streets apropos of nothing. So we can see the ears, though we may not see the whole rabbit just yet," Unga said, deploying an Estonian figure of speech.
In any case, the Wagner Group's presence in Niger will soon become apparent, Unga went on.
"While it might be wrong to make predictions in situations like these, I personally think that in due course, this can transpire."
"If we examine the Wagner Group's activities in Africa, these have never been purely military in character. There has also been a very strong economic element to this, meaning Wagner has also participated in transactions that have directly benefited them, be it in mining precious metals, or in oil. It is common knowledge that Niger has mineral resources, and my belief is that Wagner's people have some interest in that," Unga went on.
"At the same time, it also has to be conceded that Wagner's previous actions have made the countries of the region more cautious. But again, we do not know all the motives and thoughts going on inside the heads of the coup plotters. So I believe that something could arise there," he added.
Niger is known for its uranium, some of the most extensive in the world in fact, while, according to Unga, 20 percent of Europe's uranium reserves are reportedly of Nigerien origin. At the same time, there have been no interruptions in this chain so far.
According to Unga, what is happening in Niger also affects Estonia, since there have been different levels of cooperation between the two countries in recent years. For instance, Niger has been interested in Estonia's digital experience, he said.
Whether any Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel will be deployed to Niger is hard to say, Unga added.
"If the situation is favorable, our defense forces could potentially go there," he said.
Andres Unga was talking to Anna Pihl on Tuesday's edition of "Ringvaade. Suvel".
The Ministry of Defense recently submitted for a round of approvals a draft Riigikogu resolution that would authorize up to five EDF service members being set as part of an EU military mission to Niger.
President Mohamed Bazoum, elected two years ago in what has been reported as Niger's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since gaining independence from France, was overthrown in a coup late last month.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael