Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Russia in Africa

| Apr. 17, 2019

During the Cold War the Soviet Union instrumentalized Africa to oppose the West wherever it could by posing as the anti-colonialist supporter of independence, by buttressing regimes, some of them Marxist, with military or economic assistance, and by inviting thousands of students to study in Moscow. That role collapsed along with the Soviet Union, and Russia became largely absent from Africa for two decades while the European Union, the US and China expanded their relations with the rising states of the continent. Russia’s trade has remained small, in 2018 about $ 17 billion for all of Africa compared with the EU’s $ 156 billion with sub-Saharan Africa alone.

But Russia’s posture in Africa is beginning to pivot to the continent. The reasons can be subsumed under Realpolitik and President Putin’s desire to reverse what he regards as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to restore Russia’s role as a recognized world power that reaches to all regions of the globe. There are several reasons for Russia’s Realpolitik: First, Africa is emerging as a continent of growth and modernization with a population larger than China’s by later this century. Second, China has made phenomenal inroads in African countries as a major investor, lender, trading partner, advisor and even as the builder of a significant military base. In many cases these activities compete with those Russia is conducting or contemplates. Third, the West’s role in Africa is changing. Though America’s posture is (probably temporarily) somewhat diminishing, the EU is turning toward Africa even more than in the past. The German inspired “Marshall Plan for Africa” is a reaction to the immigration pressure from Africa to Europe which can only be resolved constructively by African development aided by and in partnership with the EU. Russia as a European and global power cannot remain passive in view of this development. Finally, its 54 UN members and three Security Council seats give Africa considerable relevance to any power conducting a global policy.

Russia’s activities are increasingly visible such as numerous embassy openings, visits by Putin and the Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as the application of policies where Russia has experience: delivery of arms, providing military advisors or cooperation with state controlled natural resource companies. And the support of autocratic regimes, notably of the Central African Republic with aid, weapons and paramilitary troops has been much noted. Apparently, Russia is also following the examples of China (and the West) and seeks to establish a military base on the Horn of Africa. To demonstrate and deepen its new posture toward Africa Russia is preparing an African-Russian Summit in Moscow later this year.

Major powers are increasingly competing for influence in Africa, but this time African countries are in a much stronger position than in the past to affect the outcome. The US is pursuing a contradictory course between, on the one hand, President Trump’s insulting language toward Africa, a reduction of its military role and development aid and on the other hand the National Security Advisor acknowledging a growing geopolitical struggle with China and Russia. The European Union, however, is clearly committed to a deepening partnership with Africa.

Since Russia is not able to mobilize the financial means that China has at its disposal, it focuses on military aid and support of autocratic regimes. Corruption continues to be the bane of Africa and transparency and democracy are the best means to fight it. Contrary to what Russia (and China) argue, not autocratic direction but democracy is better suited to produce Africa’s growth and development.

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Russia in Africa.” METRO U.N., April 17, 2019.

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