Russian military trainers arrive in Niger as relations with US deteriorate

DAKAR, Senegal — State television in Niger broadcast footage on Thursday of Russian military trainers arriving in the country aboard a plane equipped with military supplies to boost its air defenses amid deteriorating relations between Niger and the United States. 

Two Russian trainers were filmed in front of the plane wearing military uniforms, caps and face coverings. The plane arrived Wednesday night, the report said. 

“We are here to train the Nigerian army to use the military equipment that is here,” one of the Russian trainers said in French in the broadcast. “We are here to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger.” 

Until recently, Washington considered Niger a key partner and ally in a region swept by attempted coups in recent years. 

A U.S. airbase was established as the heart of Niger’s counterinsurgency operations in the sub-Saharan region known as the Sahel. Since 2012, the region has been gripped by a worsening insurgency fought by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. 

The U.S. invested heavily in training Niger’s forces to beat back the insurgency that has ravaged the country and its neighbors, but last summer, some of those elite U.S.-trained forces took part in a coup that ousted the elected president. 

U.S. relations with Niger took a further downturn last month when the junta announced on state television the flights from its airbase were illegal and that it no longer recognized the American military presence in the country. The junta criticized the U.S. for trying to force it to choose between partners, warning them against cooperating with Russia and Iran. 

Niamey has yet to order American troops out, U.S. officials have said. 

The broadcast said the arrival of Russian trainers followed a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s military leaders in March. Niger’s military leaders are seeking to diversify their partnerships and achieve greater sovereignty, the broadcast said. 

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