But the absence of a colonial or imperialist legacy and the record of support for national liberation movements amount to a reputational advantage Russia still enjoys in dealings with many African partners. Moreover, Russian officials eagerly portray U. Taken together, these economic, political, historical, educational, and military-security ties create a useful springboard for rebuilding relations with African countries.
However, while the legacy of this Soviet outreach to Africa is important, it only goes so far. With its economy struggling, Russia lacks deep pockets.
Russian investor interest in Africa is quite narrow, focusing primarily on natural-resource extraction and energy opportunities that often have already been thoroughly explored or exploited by other players. Cultural ties between Russians and Africans are now quite rare. Russian strategic documents belie the recent charm offensive and clearly suggest that Africa is not a prime area of strategic interest for Moscow.
In keeping with the emphasis in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy on great-power competition, Bolton highlighted the importance of containing Chinese and Russian influences on the continent. At the very moment Trump fired secretary of state Rex Tillerson while the latter was on a diplomatic mission to Africa in March , the Kremlin was launching a diplomatic surge that will culminate in the Sochi summit meeting in October.
A parade of senior African leaders has visited Moscow during the subsequent period, and a surprising number are granted courtesy calls with Putin and other senior officials. Twelve heads of state from sub-Saharan Africa have visited Russia since —six of them in see table 1. The Duma hosted delegations from various African countries for an international parliamentary forum in July , with one full day devoted to Russian-African relations. Russian diplomats routinely look to it for potential partners in efforts to dilute the influence of the United States and its allies in international bodies.
Debt relief has proven to be a useful tool, allowing Russia to count on backing from African partners on key UN votes such as the General Assembly resolution critical of the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Recently, Russia has made a deliberate effort to court the A3, which has resulted in an informal alignment that frequently manifests itself on Africa-related issues, often where Russian interests are involved. In January , Russia partnered with the A3 in the Security Council to stymie UN efforts to examine the disputed election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite a plea from Congolese opposition figures for an investigation and greater international involvement in the dispute.
South Africa has long occupied a special place among African countries courted by Russia.
The Soviet Union played a crucial role during the fight against apartheid and forged close ties to the African National Congress ANC and other militant groups. The AU has been another important target of Russian diplomatic and security outreach in Africa and a tool for Russian diplomacy to counterbalance U. Russia also offers scholarship programs to train African peacekeeping personnel and specialists at Russian military facilities.
Years of cultivating the AU provided Russia with the necessary legitimacy and political cover for its role in the peace deal. In January, presidential adviser Anton Kobyakov met with the president of the Afreximbank to plan a series of events aimed at bolstering Russian-African economic ties. The summit will bring African heads of state, business leaders, and representatives of African multilateral institutions to Russia with the goal of strengthening Russian-African business contacts.
As of writing, thirty-five African heads of state have already confirmed participation, although the number will likely increase in the run-up to the meeting. Russia has tried to tap the limited economic tools at its disposal to reestablish its presence in Africa. It is hard to overstate the structural constraints imposed on Russian ambitions in Africa by basic geoeconomic and geopolitical realities. Russia has arrived at the party quite late.
It offers remarkably little that African states actually need. Its moves are far outmatched by those of China, the United States, Japan, and the European Union, whose aid and investments in Africa count in the many tens of billions of dollars. Russia is not a major source of economic development assistance to Africa. As a raw-materials exporter, Russia is structurally a competitor to many African economies. It produces few products that African consumers want. Given the stagnant outlook for its economy, it is difficult to see Russia becoming a major economic development partner in Africa.
Zimbabwe is one such case. This approach is prevalent in the Central African Republic and Sudan see below.
One potential comparative advantage enjoyed by Russian commercial interests in parts of Africa with weak rule-of-law environments is that their pursuit of business opportunities is not encumbered by restrictions akin to the U. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But Russian companies face still competition from China in pursuing promising business opportunities.
Considering the nature of its business, such projects create extremely long-term relationships with clients since the construction and operation of nuclear-power plants are decades-long ventures. Rosatom has signed memoranda of understanding with at least fourteen African governments for potential nuclear and non-nuclear cooperation, including in such civilian nuclear sectors as medicine, agriculture, and hydropower projects.
Yet Rosatom has a history of overpromising and under-delivering. The number of deals it has signed in Africa counts mostly as a public-relations exercise, since the vast majority are simply not commercially feasible.
The construction of that plant has yet to begin as of this writing, although the government of Egypt approved a site permit for it in April. It funds science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education programs, including scientific competitions for high-school and college students. Rosatom also offers scholarships for Africans to study in Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov claimed in July that almost 15, African students now study in Russia, 58 but it is not clear how many actually do. Russian assistance to Africa is largely in the form of donations responding to humanitarian crises.
This is different from when the Soviet Union provided large-scale technical assistance to anti-colonial movements and newly independent states as part of its ideological confrontation with the West. Russia scaled back those assistance programs in the s and even today lacks a standalone international development agency. Plans to establish one through the Ministry of Finance were shelved in Russia has not signed the Good Humanitarian Donorship GHD principles, is not a member of the GHD Group of 42, and has shown little interest in offering sustainable international development and technical assistance along the lines of what the U.
Agency for International Development or other similar agencies do. This approach has little in common with recent moves by major donors toward more flexible cash contributions to responsd to humanitarian emergencies. Last year Swiss media accused him of nepotism, poor management, and misuse of the ICDO funds for personal gain.
The Swiss media has also warned of malign Russian influence in the organization. Its corporate soft-power efforts are also infrequent. Nevertheless, they pale in comparison to the assistance and charitable contributions made by the U. Information on these efforts is limited, but the World Congress of Families WCF , an organization with financial ties to the wealthy conservative Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev, has been active in Africa. Alexey Komov, a Malofeev associate, traveled to South Africa in December to participate in the launch of the anti-same-sex-marriage International Organization of the Family.
Malofeev, who is known for his deeply anti-Western views, has referred to Africa as the next geopolitical battleground between Russia and the West in an interview with Tsargrad, a conservative Russian media outlet he controls.
Guns have opened many more doors for the Kremlin in Africa than butter. Russian-made weapons offer a number of advantages to customers in African countries. They tend to be cheaper than Western equivalents and are generally reliable. Russian arms contracts often include provisions to modernize or repair Soviet-era equipment, although it is not clear whether or where any of these facilities are operational. A South African media report claims that a joint Russian—South African helicopter maintenance facility has operated in the country since South Africa, however, is eager to modernize its industry and is seeking partnerships with European arms exporters as well, which means that Russia does not have a lock on expanding defense industry cooperation with South African arms manufacturers.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union made the greatest inroads in the security sphere in Africa as a result of crisis situations. It has supplied weapons at a discount or for free to countries struggling with internal unrest. As Kimberly Marten has demonstrated, Wagner is not a true private military company, but rather a quasi-private extension of the Russian military-security establishment. Wagner, which consists of 3,—5, fighters, does not adhere to international standards for such companies. In the CAR, Wagner reportedly provides security for senior officials and guards key economic assets in the country, including gold and diamond mines.
Prigozhin-affiliated entities also finance Russian public diplomacy activities in the CAR, including sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.
His presence in the CAR is widely publicized, which illustrates the blurred lines between official and off-the-books activities. While hard data is difficult to come by, Wagner also is reportedly active in Libya and Sudan. There are growing indications it has been looking to acquire a naval or logistics facility in East Africa in recent months. Basing arrangements could help support Russian operations elsewhere in the region and build an intelligence-collection platform to monitor the activities of U.
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In August , Lavrov announced plans to build a military logistics hub in Eritrea. Somaliland, a self-declared breakaway territory in Somalia, has reportedly offered Russia the opportunity to obtain rights to a naval base on its territory, likely in return for formal diplomatic recognition. Agriculture, agricultural machinery, and agricultural technology will be key agenda items at the Sochi summit.