**U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $150 million in direct assistance to Africa’s Sahel region Thursday as he visited Niger, seeking to strengthen ties with a country that has so far avoided the recent spate of military coups and Russian mercenaries destabilizing its neighbors.

Blinken’s visit comes as both Mali and Burkina Faso remain increasingly volatile, each having gone through two military coups a piece since 2020. Both neighbors also have kicked out French troops from their countries and have enlisted Russian military assistance amid the unabating violence wreaked by Islamic extremists.

Blinken on Thursday called Niger “a model of resilience, a model of democracy, a model of cooperation” in the region and warned that the expansion of Russian mercenaries in the region would not bode well for the countries embracing them.