Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Russia’s Return to Africa (The Russia-Africa Summit)

24.10.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
What relations does Russia have with the African continent? Traditionally friendly and with significant historical foundations. After the wide influence of the times of the USSR and a slight decline, Russia is again becoming close to many African countries, as evidenced by the Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi on October 23 and 24. Apparently, in addition to the previous "anti-colonial" rhetoric and products of the military-industrial complex, Russia has a number of new proposals for African countries.

Summit

On October 23-24, more than 40 African leaders and about 3,000 businessmen gather in Sochi at the first Russian-African summit. The summit is the first interim result of recent years of Russia’s efforts to strengthen its political, economic and media influence on the continent. The summit formally consolidates Russia’s diplomatic efforts on a pan-African scale and becomes an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s global game to restore Russia as a global player. Although Russia cannot be considered a major economic player in Africa compared to the EU, China or the USA, the high speed of decision-making, flexibility, and focus on the strategic areas of the new player: nuclear power, electricity, security, etc., significantly complicate the geopolitical landscape Africa.

Russia wants to voice its agenda to guests, political and economic leaders of the first rank. A large number of African heads of state (87%, 47 out of 54 countries) will attend this important meeting. At more than 30 plenary sessions, participants will discuss issues related to the development of exchanges in the political, economic, humanitarian and cultural fields.

Historical moments

The summit in Sochi means a new rapprochement between Russia and the countries of the African continent. The greatest importance at the summit is given to the discussion of economic issues. However, Russia can play on finer points namely, on its positive role during the period of liberation movements and the struggle for independence in Africa. Only this time it will not be a question of a struggle for political independence, but of a struggle for economic independence. After 2014, Russia gained significant experience in the conditions of economic sanctions from the countries of the Western world. For many countries in Africa, this serves as a sign of quality, and causes sympathy.

In addition, Russia can offer a number of new modern solutions both for a practical way out of the sanctions regime and a relatively prosperous existence in conditions of confrontation with Western countries. Among the main areas for new cooperation, the following can be distinguished.

Areas of cooperation

Economic interests: In the economic presence of Russia, in addition to security, the energy and mining sectors dominate. The mining and energy sectors are sectors in which Russia can provide expertise and bilateral agreements can be mutually beneficial. Russian energy giants Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec and Rosatom are present in several African countries, including Uganda, Nigeria and Angola. It is expected that Russia will build the first nuclear power plant in Egypt.

Political rapprochement: Since the beginning of the 2010s, Russia has been trying to expand the geography of its interests in Africa beyond its former zone of influence, as evidenced by the number and diversity of African heads of state who visited Moscow and the visits of Russian officials to the continent.

Military cooperation: Russia is multiplying the signing of agreements on military cooperation and is stepping up the deployment of military advisers, mostly private ones. From 2017 to the present, twenty new agreements have been signed compared to seven between 2010 and 2017.

Trade between Russia and Africa has risen sharply from $ 760 million in 1993 to $ 17 billion in 2018. However, the volume of trade remains 16 times less than between China and the African continent.

Arms sale: Due to the priority of security in cooperation with Africa and extensive experience in this area, Russia remains the largest exporter of arms to Africa, in particular thanks to the Egyptian market. Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier, accounting for 39% of sales in 2017, and thus surpasses China (17%) and the United States (11%).

New trump cards of Russia

In the context of international sanctions and the economic downturn, Russia has few means to develop a full-fledged African strategy. The approach, combining military cooperation and the influence of the media, does not cost much and allows you to exert maximum influence, with a minimum of resources. Russia appears only in those countries that traditionally have strong western forces, or cannot solve these or other problems (as in the Central African Republic after the withdrawal of French troops at the end of Operation Sangaris in 2016).

At the same time, with little investment in the African continent, Vladimir Putin is hosting the first Russia-Africa Summit, a symbol of growing ambition in a region where China and the West are a few steps ahead.

“We are preparing and implementing investment projects with Russian participation, which are estimated at billions of dollars,” Vladimir Putin said in an interview with TASS state agency on Monday. The Russian president refers to Moscow’s commitment to “military and security cooperation,” “help in the fight against Ebola,” training “African cadres” at Russian universities and implementing all the projects proposed by Russia without “political or other” interference.

Firearms and security issues are in great demand in Africa, and Russia is an effective supplier of them: it is expanding its military presence and training programs on the continent. Russian security agencies and private security companies supported local leaders in the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Sudan. Several countries, including Mali and Mauritania, have turned to Russia for help in the fight against terrorist groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS). Russia is also negotiating with Eritrea to establish a material and technical base, which, therefore, will provide Moscow with access to the Red Sea.

Compared to Western countries, Russia, like China, also has less internal restrictions on its policies on the African continent. Nothing prevents Russian companies from entering into corrupt relations with the authorities in relation to government contracts or market share. Russia relies on existing political elites, and allows them to enrich themselves. Relying on stability, Russia subsequently provides itself with economic benefits.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit: google image/illustration

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