The Nigerian military junta that led the coup against President Mohammed Bazoum, a strategic ally of France, said it favoured cooperation with neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, which are already ruled by coup juntas and have been strengthening their ties with Russia.
The deposed government of Niger, one of Africa's poorest countries, was France's main partner in the volatile Sahel region and kept a cautious distance from Mali and Burkina Faso, which have been openly anti-French since their coups in 2021 and 2022.
France has 1,500 military personnel deployed on Nigerian territory and important economic interests in uranium mining, a situation that could change from now on.
Distancing from France
On Thursday, the coup junta - organised under the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CLSP) - accused France in a communiqué of landing a military plane at Niamey international airport, despite the border closure decreed the night before by the military.
The junta issued another, harsher communiqué the following day, warning against "any foreign military intervention" in collaboration with "some former dignitaries taking refuge in chancelleries", without giving further details. Social networks pointed to the presence of French military personnel in the Nigerien capital Niamey.
The Niger coup comes amid growing sentiment against France - a former colonising power - in the Sahel, staged in Mali and Burkina Faso, whose coup governments have in recent months expelled French forces from the anti-terrorist mission Barkhane.
The French military then took refuge in Niger and Chad to continue fighting terrorism from there, but their future in Niger is now uncertain.
Rapprochement with Russia?
Although Niger did not participate in this week's Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, the Russian press reported that the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had met with Nigerien representatives there.
He also met with representatives from Mali, where Wagner has been operating for months, and from the Central African Republic, where Russian mercenaries will provide security during Sunday's constitutional referendum.
Simultaneously, an audio of an alleged statement by Prigozhin supporting the coup in Niger was circulated on Telegram channels close to Wagner. "What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the Nigerien people against the colonisers," he said.
Ousted Nigerien President Mohammed Bazoum told Jeune Afrique in an interview last May that he was concerned about Wagner's influence and the possibility of a coup backed by them. "We are watching you," he warned the "people" who, he said, wanted to "use" Wagner for that purpose.
In his first appearance, the self-proclaimed head of the coup junta CLSP, General Abdourahamane Tiani, reproached Bazoum for his refusal to collaborate with Burkina Faso and Mali when the three countries share the African territory with the most jihadist activity, thus opening the door to closer ties with their neighbours.
The three do indeed share the area known as "the three borders", where the three countries converge. It is a vast and dangerous desert territory that is experiencing an upsurge in jihadism, with weekly attacks by groups loyal to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which are in turn engaged in bloody battles for control.
The region suffers not only from terrorism and political instability, but also from the consequences of climate change. In Niger alone, 4.3 million people (out of a population of 26 million) are dependent on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, which counts 370,000 internally displaced persons and another 250,000 refugees from Mali, Burkina and Nigeria, making it one of the most sensitive areas on the planet.