Russian presence in Africa is growing and expanding

Russia has been working to strengthen its role in Africa for years, and through this it has been able to transform within a decade into a player that is difficult to bypass on the continent, especially after the war in Ukraine, which was the main station that showed this role prominently.

Russia was able to impose a “statu quo” on the West that requires dealing with Moscow on any African file, such that the West is now obligated to coordinate with Moscow in order to:

1- Combat rebel movements.

2- Combat terrorism.

3- Limit internal unrest.

This approach gave Moscow additional international power cards, and made it enter areas with different strategic weight, such as:

1- An influential presence in the Mediterranean, through its distinguished relations with Algeria, Libya and Egypt.

2- An active presence in the Horn of Africa region that controls the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea region, which is evident through its strong relations today with Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Despite the strength of Russia’s allies in Africa, such as China, as well as its opponents, such as European countries and the United States, Moscow has created an opportunity for itself to compete within the continent. That opportunity today is represented by Russia’s reliance on:

1- Supporting anti-Western trends.
2- Establishing serious and honest mechanisms in the field of military and security cooperation.
3- Helping poor African countries combat poverty and protect their food security.

Through these two titles, Russia was able to transform within a few years into the largest arms exporter to the African continent (the largest arms supplier to Africa at 44% between 2017-2021), and to also become a difficult number in the field of maintaining the internal security of several African countries, and protecting them from the attempts of some Western countries to tamper with their internal African security motivated by hegemony, through close security coordination between African armies and the Russian army.

Today, Russia has 36 military cooperation agreements with 36 African countries, ranging from:
1- Supply of weapons and training.
2- Building military bases.
3- Security and defence consultations.

Among these agreements, six were signed between 2021 and 2022 with Ethiopia, Gabon, Mauritania, Nigeria, Madagascar and Cameroon. As well as 20 other agreements during the period between 2017-2021, at least half of which are with countries that did not have previous relations with Russia, which confirms the rise in Russian influence on the African continent.

In addition, Russia has provided direct military and security support to its allies since 2017, in the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Libya, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, and recently in Sudan.

Moscow did not stop at the military issue. Rather, it provided humanitarian and food assistance, announcing the settlement of 90% of direct African debts, and the cancellation of debts worth $ 23 billion. It also provided grants to several countries, in the form of grain aid, especially in the first year of the Ukrainian war.

At the diplomatic level, Russia used its “veto” right in the United Nations Security Council in favour of its African allies, which made it of additional importance to a large number of African countries that felt that they actually had a “voice” in the security council, which is prohibited for developing countries, and even had a permanent seat in the Council, through which they were able to bypass Western dictates as well as unfair sanctions in many cases.

The level of Russian interest in the African continent and its countries increased after the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow following the Ukrainian war. It is likely that the Russian role in the continent will grow in the coming period.

The West bet on Russia’s inability to continue playing this role, due to the “illusion” of Western sanctions after the war in Ukraine. The West believed at the time that sanctions due to the Ukrainian war would limit Russia’s ability to move in the world, as well as in the African continent, but these bets fell and experience proved this after more than two years, since the start of the war.

These sanctions have shown that they are useless. On the contrary, the sanctions have backfired on the countries that imposed them, especially on the European countries that are now paying the price in Africa, through their withdrawals and successive defeats.

The writer, Shamsan Tamim, is a media researcher

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