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Western Africa 'turning away' from France — expert

Vsevolod Sviridov emphasizes that this "uptrend will last," with the countries of the African region increasingly asserting their status as sovereign actors

MOSCOW, August 3. /TASS/. West African countries are gradually distancing themselves from France, and this trend will grow stronger, as they assert their status as international actors in their own right, Vsevolod Sviridov, an expert of the Center for African Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told TASS in connection with the escalating tensions in Niger.

According to the analyst, after the coup d'etat in Niger, it is still too early to say unequivocally that the country's "foreign policy identity" is an established fact.

"It is still finding its feet. The new authorities are trying to negotiate with neighboring states and non-regional actors and remain hesitant about who they should do business with. However, some countries - Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso - are indeed distancing themselves from France, looking for alternative centers of power and developing relations in the east with Russia, China and Turkey, which has also become a rather influential player in West Africa in recent years. <...> This trend is clear to the naked eye. West Africa is gradually turning away from France," the expert believes.

As Sviridov emphasized, this "uptrend will last" but not because "western Africa will be looking for someone to team up with." The countries of this region "will increasingly assert their status as sovereign actors."

"They will determine their own foreign and domestic policies and increase their economic and digital sovereignty. Non-regional players, including Russia, can furnish assistance to them in this respect," he added.

Levers of pressure

At the same time, the expert believes, the ongoing crisis in Paris’ policies on the African track should by no means be interpreted as a sign of its utter failure. Certain "levers of pressure" remain, the expert is convinced.

"For now, one should not write France off altogether. French businesses retain a very strong foothold. I am referring not so much to the official establishment as private ties - economic, educational, cultural. This is a huge infrastructure of influence, which coups cannot undermine overnight," Sviridov believes.

Also, France can still rely on loyal and economically strong countries in the region.

"It maintains constructive relations with Cote d'Ivoire, which is one of the region’s economic frontrunners. It also has good relations with Cameroon and Senegal. In a nutshell, France retains leverage over the countries of the region and integration structures," he emphasized.

Moscow's move

At the same time, as the expert noted, Moscow has taken a very "balanced position" in the current crisis situation surrounding France and Niger. Such an attitude, according to the analyst, preserves "opportunities to develop relations with Niger’s new authorities, should they express such a wish" and provides a basis for their pro-Russian orientation.

"Most likely, the new authorities of Niger are now trying to identify ways of interaction with the outside world - France and the United States in the first place. We cannot yet say unequivocally whether Niger will be ready to develop comprehensive relations with Russia. But Moscow has definitely used the regime change in Burkina Faso and Mali to its advantage. Both have become important counterparts in western Africa. The same can happen with Niger, too," Sviridov concluded.

On July 26, a group of rebel army officers announced the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum, the closure of the republic's borders, a curfew, the suspension of the constitution, and a ban on the political parties’ activities. On July 28, the plotters proclaimed General Abdurahmane Tchiani the head of state. During the coup, he led the presidential guard, whose units detained Bazoum and continue to keep him in custody.

Since then, regular demonstrations have been held in the capital city in support of the rebels and against the presence of foreign troops. Later, Niger reopened its borders.