The Kremlin spent $70 mln on organising the Russian-African summit in October, 2019. Then, Russian leader Vladimir Putin stated that in recent years Moscow had written off $20 bn of African countries’ debts. Why does Russia need Africa?
For two years, the world press has been hotly debating Russia’s renewed influence in Africa. Russia left the Dark Continent at the end of the Cold War. Why has it decided to return? Western experts list three reasons.
After annexing Crimea, Russian has soured its relations with the West, and now it is seeking new allies and new markets. Apart from markets and friends, it is also seeking precious resources, oil, gas and rare metals – all at low prices. Most of all, Russia is restoring its image as a superpower, so no decisions on global issues will be taken without it. Whether they help solve problems or create them is irrelevant now.
In just two years, Moscow has signed military cooperation agreements with twenty African countries, all united in frustration, oppressive Chinese loans, their inability to control their territory, and a fear of ‘coloured revolutions’. What does Russia give them first? Weapons, lots of weapons.
Exporting arms to Africa is the Kremlin’s old tradition. The coats-of-arms of Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still emblazoned with Kalashnikovs. Russia sells twice as many weapons to Africa than America and China combined. Last year, the Kremlin supplied arms worth $4 bn to Africa – over a third of Russia’s total arms exports. However, 75% of them go to one country – Algeria. Russia is supplying Su-30 fighters, helicopters, and Iskander missile systems. Russian helicopters, planes and air defense systems are also popular in Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.
Western media regularly report on how Russia is supplying arms and mercenaries to Libya, where the Kremlin is supporting Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s fight against a Western-recognised regime. In Africa, there are no Russian military bases, but yet it held negotiations with Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Mozambique.
Not only Russian arms dealers are active in Africa. RosAtom is building a nuclear power station in Egypt; it is also set to build mini-stations in Zambia, Ethiopia, and Sudan. The state-run company is also engaged in uranium exploration and mining.
Igor Sechin’s Rosneft is planning to extract oil in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Sudan. According to the French Institute of International Relations, oligarchs can use the cooperation with Africa to quietly channel money out of Russia.
GazProm Corp signed gas exploration contracts in Algeria and Libya; it envisages similar success in Ghana, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Gazprom’s strategic goal is to boost African gas exports to Europe to stop being dependent on transit via Ukraine. Apart from uranium, gas and oil, Russian companies are also mining diamonds, gold and chrome in Africa.
In a dozen less stable countries, these companies are using private military companies (PMCs) for their own security; their most famous operations are carried out in the Central African Republic, where a civil war has been raging for 15 years. Military experts linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as Putin’s Chef, guard the CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadera. His security advisor is Russian citizen Valery Zakharov.
French media report that Russian PMCs have taken control of Central African diamond mining both in territories ruled by the authorities and also in rebel-occupied areas. In July 2018, in the CAR, while investigating the ownership of a business guarded by PMCs, Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko were murdered.
To its friends, the Kremlin is exporting both military and political know-how. In many foreign election campaigns, Russian spin doctors help pro-Russian politicians, but the Kremlin’s expert missions are not always successful. In Madagaskar’s presidential elections of 2018, Russian experts supported eight candidates, but none of them were elected. In the RSA, Russian political technologists helped president Jacob Zuma, but he also lost the elections.
And as a result, despite the spike of Russian activity in Africa, its influence should not be overestimated. To regain the position it lost after the Cold War, the Kremlin now has no attractive ideas, strategies, or money. Russia will remain an economic dwarf on the continent. Its trade and investments in Africa are incomparable to those of America, Europe, China. The countries which cooperate with Russia also deal with its rivals Russia can make the competitors’ life difficult, but the rivalry over Africa between the West and China – and now Russia – will certainly bring no peace or stability to the continent.
Alyaksandr Papko/MS, Belsat