A day after Niger's President Mohammad Bazoum was detained from power by a group of soldiers, reports emerged linking the Russian mercenary group Wagner to the coup.
A Russian organization affiliated with the Wagner mercenary group posted an audio message on Telegram that appeared to come from its boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who said the events in Niger were part of the country's struggle against "colonialists".
The sighting of Prigozhin during the Africa-Russia summit in St Petersburg and the emergence of rumors of the audio clip sparked controversy. In the message, the Wagner chief allegedly says he has taken credit for the coup.
Prigozhin's mid-coup audio recording confirmed the support of Wagner's troops in bringing down the government.
"What happened in Niger is nothing more than the struggle of the people of Niger against colonizers, who tried to impose their own rules of life," the message said.
The message noted that "former colonizers are trying to keep the people of African countries in check" and "fill these countries with terrorists and various gangs, creating a colossal security crisis."
"In order to maintain their actual slave system in the territories of these states, they deploy various foreign missions, which number tens of thousands of soldiers," the statement attributed to Prigozhin said.
It added that "these tens of thousands of soldiers are not capable of protecting the population of sovereign states. The population is suffering."
The 64-year-old President of Niger is known to be an ally of the West. Both the US and former colonial power France have military bases in Niger.
According to political experts, President Bazoum's removal would cause the US to lose influence in Africa and threaten its plans to fight Islamist militants.
Niger is one of the last Sahel countries not close to Moscow, having lost Russia's support due to its proximity to the West. A fall of power could therefore increase Moscow's influence in the region and give Russia an advantage over Europe and the United States.
Prigozhin has been out of the public eye since the mercenary group's short-lived mutiny against Russia's top military officials last month.
A photograph has emerged showing Prigozhin shaking hands with Ambassador Freddy Mapouka, a senior official in the Central African Republic, at the Russia-Africa summit.
According to the BBC, the image was posted on Facebook by Dmitri Syty, who reportedly manages Wagner's operations in the Central African Republic.
It is also the first confirmed sighting of Prigzohin in Russia since Wagner's failed insurgency in June. Previously, Prigozhin had appeared in a camp, but it could not be confirmed where the photo was taken.
Prigozhin's attendance at the summit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg suggested that ties between the two leaders may have been reestablished.
This raised allegations that Wagner's forces worked with the Russian government in the Niger coup.
The voice in Prigozhin's clip is similar to that of the Wagner chief. However, since the report has not been verified, there is no concrete evidence of Russian involvement.
That said, it is unclear what will happen to the U.S. operational sites and the over 1,100 U.S. personnel in the country. "It is too soon to speculate on any potential future actions or activities," a spokesman with the U.S. Africa Command, John Manley, told AP.
Niger borders Mali and Libya, where Wagner has the most fighters. It also borders Burkina-Faso, where Wagner is trying to establish a presence.
Source: The Week - Al Arabiya - BBC
Compiled by: Elif Önder