Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who remains active even after leading a failed mutiny against the Russian army’s top brass last month, has hailed Niger’s military coup as good news and offered his fighters’ services to bring order.
A voice message on Telegram app channels associated with Wagner which they said was Mr Prigozhin, did not claim involvement in the coup but described it as a moment of long-overdue liberation from Western colonisers and made what looked like a pitch for his fighters to help keep order.
“What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger with their colonisers,” said the message, posted on Thursday evening.
The message added, “With colonisers who are trying to foist their rules of life on them and their conditions and keep them in the state that Africa was in hundreds of years ago.”
The speaker had the same distinctive intonation and turn of phrase in Russian as the Wagner boss, although Reuters could not confirm with certainty that it was him.
“Today, this is effectively gaining their independence,” the message said. “The rest will, without doubt, depend on the citizens of Niger and how effective governance will be, but the main thing is this: they have got rid of the colonisers.”
It was unclear who was in charge of Niger after soldiers declared a military coup on Wednesday evening and held President Mohamed Bazoum in the presidential palace.
The country, one of the poorest in the world but also holds some of its biggest uranium deposits, declared full independence from former colonial ruler France in 1960.
The voice message was the latest sign that Mr Prigozhin and his men remain active in Africa, where they still have security contracts in some countries like Central African Republic (CAR) and are keen to expand.
In a video released earlier this month, he was heard telling his men in Belarus that they should gather their strength for a “new journey to Africa.”
There have been various sightings of Mr Prigozhin in Russia since the post-mutiny deal was clinched, and the Kremlin said he had even attended a meeting with Mr Putin, who had earlier called the abortive mutiny “a stab in the back”.
The voice message’s release coincided with the publication on Telegram of at least two photographs purporting to show Mr Prigozhin meeting African attendees of a showcase two-day Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, which concluded on Friday.
Reuters verified the location in one of the photographs as the Trezzini Palace Hotel in St Petersburg, Mr Prigozhin’s home town.
The lanyard is worn by the Central African Republic (CAR) official. He is shown meeting in the same photograph that matches those given to the summit’s delegates.
Smiling and wearing blue jeans and a white polo shirt, Mr Prigozhin looks relaxed in the photos as he poses to shake the hands of the delegates.
Mr Prigozhin, in his voice message, boasted of Wagner’s alleged efficiency in helping African nations stabilise and develop in what sounded like a sales pitch.
On Thursday, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said the constitutional order in Niger should be restored.
Analysts said Mr Prigozhin’s appearances indicated that his private military company (PMC) would continue to play a role in furthering the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda in Africa.