Why is Moscow interested in strengthening its diplomatic relations with African countries?

The African tour by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to (Egypt, Congo Brazzaville, Uganda and Ethiopia), which began on July 24, 2022, is a confirmation of Russia’s involvement in the current system of interactions with African countries, which coincides with the continued The Russian-Ukrainian war, which erupted in late February 2022, and its accompanying multi-dimensional repercussions on the entire world, including the African continent, especially the issue of food security, which made this tour bear with it many influential dimensions for both parties, especially In light of Western sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of its military intervention in Ukraine.

historical legacy

Russian-African relations have long historical roots; Where the Soviet Union (formerly) provided support for socialist-oriented national liberation movements to support their demands to get rid of European colonialism, and it also established partnerships with African countries shortly after their demand for independence, which was motivated by a combination of ideological commitment, pragmatic economic interests and the need to build alliances in light of The climate of the Cold War that dominated the world, and the intense international competition that accompanied it within the framework of an international system based on “bipolarity” led by the United States of America and the Soviet Union at the time. Perhaps the absence of a colonial background of the (former) Soviet Union in Africa is what helped strengthen the relations between the two parties at this stage, especially in light of the negative perceptions towards the roles associated with the traditional colonial powers.

Although Russian-African relations were affected in the post-Cold War period with the beginning of the nineties of the twentieth century due to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the legacy of previous links remained, and Russia’s interest in Africa was renewed in the wake of the oil boom in the first decade of the twenty-first century; Where Moscow has sought to strengthen its partnerships on the continent; Where President Vladimir Putin visited Libya – which previously enjoyed close relations with the Soviet Union – in 2008 with the aim of discussing energy and arms sales and liquidating billions of dollars of Libya’s debts dating back to the Soviet era, as the newly elected Russian President Dmitry at the time Medvedev” on a four-day African tour in Africa in 2009, he visited countries (Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia, Angola); This was accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, including the heads of major Russian companies such as “Gazprom”.

Multiple contexts

The previous historical background constitutes an important entry point for explaining the dimensions of the recent African tour of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which comes within the context of multiple and intertwined dimensions at the international level, and is represented in the following:

1- The importance of Africa in the interactions related to the Ukrainian war: that war began in late February 2022, and was accompanied by the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia, which were primarily aimed at exerting more pressure to impose international isolation on it and weaken its comprehensive capabilities in the face of Ukraine; Therefore, Russia seeks to try to break this isolation by strengthening its network of relations and external interactions with African countries to build strategic alliances, especially in light of the African position, which was inclined to be neutral in its general direction regarding the resolution issued by the United Nations General Assembly on March 2, 2022, which demanded Russia will “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” and the same was repeated regarding the decision to remove Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council on April 7, 2022.

2- The Grain Agreement between Russia and Ukraine and African Food Security: It is the agreement that was signed on July 22, 2022, and stipulated ending the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports and allowing the export of millions of tons of grain that the blockade was imposed on; Where this agreement provides for the reopening of at least three Ukrainian ports, from which ships will depart through the Black Sea to the “Bosphorus” strait and the Mediterranean, and the ships will be monitored by a coordination center in “Istanbul” staffed by representatives from Turkey, the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine. Safety guarantees for ships and ports participating in the operation, an agreement that was welcomed by the African Union due to its positive effects on food security on the continent, which has recently been exacerbated by the negative repercussions associated with the war.

3- Preparation for the second Russian-African summit: the summit that will be held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, next October; Russia is trying to cement its position as an ally of Ethiopia in the post-civil war future that began in November 2020. Although Russia is not an influential economic partner for Ethiopia, it enjoys political influence in the country due to its continued support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the government in the context of the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, noting that the first version of this summit was held in the “Sochi resort” in Russia; In October 2019, the latter was the first regulatory framework of its kind at the multilateral level linking Russia to Africa.

4- Western endeavors to support relations with Africa:This is crystallized through the African tour of French President Emmanuel Macron to the countries (Cameroon, Benin, Guinea-Bissau) during the period (25-28) July 2022. This visit is the first of its kind by a French president to these countries since a year 2017, which aims to revive the French presence in the traditional areas of influence in Africa after its decline significantly recently, especially with the beginning of the new presidential term of President “Macron”, and this also coincides with the official visits of the United States Special Envoy, Mike Hammer. To both Egypt and Ethiopia alongside the UAE during the period (24 July – 1 August) 2022, which aims among its main objectives to bring closer views on the issue of the Renaissance Dam, and to review the progress made in providing humanitarian aid and accountability for violations and abuses of human rights in Ethiopia, and efforts to advance peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Tigray leaders. 

strategic interests

The African tour of Russian Foreign Minister “Lavrov” comes in light of a set of national interests that govern Russia’s relations with Africa in recent years, and can be addressed as follows:

1- Benefiting from the African voting bloc in international forums:   Moscow seeks to take advantage of the high relative weight in the voting bloc of African countries within the framework of international institutions, especially the United Nations with its various organs; There are (54) member states, and this is an influential matter in favor of supporting issues, whether directly affecting Russia or those related to Russian interests in various regions of the world, and this is not evidenced by the African position that tends to be neutral regarding the resolution issued by the General Assembly of the United Nations. After the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war in early March 2022. Russia is betting on winning the political support of African countries on what it offers it on several levels, especially at the military and economic levels on the one hand, and what this constitutes as a suitable alternative to Western interests at times on the other hand.

2- Strengthening military relations with African countries: Russia is currently the main supplier of arms to Africa; The African continent accounted for about 14 percent of Russian arms exports between 2017 and 2021; This is according to the report “International Trends in Arms Transfers” issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute “SIPRI” in March 2022. Egypt and Algeria, along with India and China, came as the most important recipients of Russian weapons; This amounts to about (73%) of the total Russian arms exports. It is worth noting that the continents of Asia and Oceania received about (61%) of Russian arms exports, while the Middle East region received (20%) during the same period. Aircraft come at the top of the main Russian arms exports in general during the period (2017-2021); It constituted about (48%) of its total arms exports, followed by engines, especially for aircraft (16%), and then missiles (12%).

Russia also conducts military exercises with several African countries, perhaps the most important of which is Algeria; The two countries announced the holding of joint anti-terror exercises on the border with Morocco in November 2022. The first planning conference was held in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz to prepare for the maneuvers that are scheduled to take place at the Hamakir base located in the Algerian state of Bechar. The inaugural exercises took place In the “North Ossetia” region in October 2021. In addition, Russia has signed military agreements with more than 20 African countries since 2015, and its cooperation ranges from combating terrorism and peacekeeping to arms sales.

3- Enhancing the Russian security presence in African countries: The tour of Russian Foreign Minister “Lavrov” is inseparable from Moscow’s attempts to devote its security role in many African countries by supporting the capabilities of these countries; Where several African countries such as Mauritania and Mali requested Russian support in fighting terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Ansar al-Islam and Boko Haram; In Mali, Russia deployed trainers to enhance the operational capacity of the internal security forces, and provided Mali with four helicopters, weapons and ammunition in 2021, and the importance of the Russian role in Mali is increasing in light of the European Union and the United States ending their military training there after the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected President “Ibrahim Boubacar” Keita in August 2020, and France’s announcement to start withdrawing its forces participating in “Operation Barkhane” gradually in February 2022.

Russia relies on the use of private security companies to enhance its influence by providing support to African countries in several areas, most notably the fight against terrorism. The Wagner Group is one of the tools that Moscow relies on to achieve its national interests in Africa in recent years, whose role initially crystallized during the conflict. in Ukraine in 2014; Its elements have supported pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, and this group plays roles in some African countries such as Mali, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.

4- Supporting the joint Russian-African economic relations: the economic dimension has come at the top of the priorities of the relations between the two parties in recent times due to the huge negative effects on African economies as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, especially in light of the United Nations warning against confronting about (18) million severe hunger has been diagnosed in the Sahel and about (13) million people in the Horn of Africa as a result of the persistent drought; Many African countries depend for wheat and fertilizer production on Russia, which accounts for about 16% of wheat production and 13% of fertilizer production at the global level, which means that African supplies of these foodstuffs are greatly affected. This aspect constituted one of the main considerations driving the African tour of Russian Foreign Minister “Lavrov”; This is to confirm the Russian efforts and measures to mitigate the impact of the war on Africa’s food security.

Although Russia is not one of the most important major trading partners of Africa in recent years, there is a growth in the volume of their inter-trade; As it rose from about $14.4 billion in 2020 to $17.7 billion in 2021, by about $14.6 billion for Russian exports to Africa, compared to about $3 billion for imports. It is noted that the volume of bilateral trade has doubled since 2015, but it is limited compared to the volume of trade between China and the United States with Africa, which amounted to about (253.7) and (63.2) billion dollars, respectively, in 2021.

Russia has sought to significantly enhance trade and investment in Africa, especially in all of (Morocco, Egypt, Sudan), and one of the reasons behind this was the increasing attractiveness of African gas and oil markets to Russian companies such as Gazprom, Rosneft, and Lukoil. Lukoil”. Perhaps Russia’s endeavors here are based not only on taking advantage of opportunities to increase production and influencing the global gas market, but also on prices and market conditions in other countries.

5- Expanding Russian investment in African natural resources:  Russia is working with African countries to extract the main natural resources to enhance its economic capabilities, especially in light of the American and Chinese competition for these resources, such as lithium owned by many African countries, including Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Russia is expanding its investments in Africa through Rosatom, which is one of the Russian nuclear energy companies aiming to acquire about (3%) of its global market by 2025 and about (10%) by 2050; By relying on the resources of African countries in this regard, Russia also relies on the same company to explore for bauxite – which is the source of aluminum – in Namibia, as well as the “Rusal” company that is prospecting for it in Guinea.

In conclusion, it can be said that the future vision of Russian-African relations presents a growing and increasing intensity of interactions associated with them at various levels, especially military and economic, and this reinforces the existing mutual interests between the two parties. On the one hand, Africa seeks to diversify its network of external relations by transcending its traditional alliance with The European colonial powers, on the other hand, Russia is seeking to build strategic alliances with African countries to enhance its international position within the framework of the new international system that tends to multipolarity.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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