Europe faces fresh threats to its energy supplies after a pro-Putin coup in Niger removed a key Western ally from power.
The country’s President, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown by his military on Wednesday night.
The next day, hundreds of people took to the streets of the Niger’s capital, Niamey, waving Russian flags and chanting support for the Wagner militia.
Analysts fear that Moscow will now seek to build close ties with the new military regime, potentially putting at risk uranium supplies that are needed as fuel for Europe’s nuclear power stations.
As Europe weans itself off Russian oil and gas, it has increasingly turned to nuclear energy as a replacement.
France produces 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, as well as exporting the energy source to other European countries such as Germany.
The problem for France is that much of its uranium supplies already come from Russia or countries that are part of its sphere of influence.
Last year, 30 per cent of its uranium imports came directly from Russia.
A further 12 per cent and 9.6 per cent came from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan respectively, both former Soviet states.
Niger, which produces 5 per cent of the world’s uranium, currently exports all of it to France.
If Moscow gains greater control over the new regime, then France’s dependency on Russia and its allies for uranium will grow.
This dependency could be exploited by the Kremlin to further disrupt Europe’s energy supplies, leading to a new crisis.
Sayen Gohil, an analyst at Fitch Solutions, told the Daily Telegraph: “There is a key risk that Niger will move away from relying on France and the US and move towards Russia.”
He added that this would have regional implications for nuclear power in the EU, which gets a quarter of its energy from the source.
A further threat could be Russian attempts to disrupt the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline, which is planned to run from Nigeria, through Niger to Europe.
The pipeline is expected to send around 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Europe per year, once completed.
It’s part of a strategy to diversify Europe’s gas supplies away from Russia, which used to total as much as 155 billion cubic metres per year.
Mr Gohil noted: “That could be a reason for Russia to immediately try and build very close ties with the new military junta and potentially blockade this project.
“However, Putin is unlikely to have the economic means to do this.”
Africa has seen as many as seven coups across west and central Africa in the last three years alone.
Russia has sought to exploit the political turmoil to further its interests at the expense of those of the West.
The Kremlin has established a clear influence in Mali and reportedly Burkina Faso following similar coups, which forced the French government to evacuate its troops from both countries.