On 23 January 2023, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov visited South Africa, starting his new African tour. Only 6 months ago Mr. Lavrov visited Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda and Ethiopia. This time, after South Africa, he also travelled to Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, and then, in February – Mauritania, Mali, and Sudan.
The preparation for the upcoming Second Russia-Africa Summit triggered attention to the cooperation with African countries. The Summit, which is to be held in July of 2023, was one of the main topics to discuss, therefore the Russian MFA is securing participation of the African leadership. Despite the complex geopolitical situation, the leaders of all visited countries responded to the invitation positively, with the level of their presence to be disclosed later.
The diversity of current political situations in the visited countries is noteworthy and demonstrates the prevailing practicality of the Russian foreign policy. Russia’s relations with Africa are still characterised by the gap in levels of political and economic relations, so “the main efforts now need to be focused on the economic sphere”, pointed out the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.
The promotion of bilateral trade was at the centre of the discussions announced. African countries are mainly interested in importing fertilisers, grain, and food products from Russia.
Russia and Eritrea also discussed cooperation in the development of domestic agriculture. The countries agreed to establish the intergovernmental consultation mechanism on trade and economy to mitigate the effects of Western sanctions.
“Russian exports to Africa should be serviced by financial institutions that are resilient to Western sanctions. This task can be solved, and it will be solved,” commented Andrey Maslov, director of the HSE Centre for African Studies.
Another aspect of Russian-African relations that was highlighted during Mr. Lavrov’s tour is cooperation in the fight against terrorism. In Mali Mr. Lavrov confirmed Russia’s commitment to cooperation with the interim government in their fight against the terrorist organisations (JNIM, Al-Qaeda, and ISGS). He mentioned that Russia provides Malian Armed forces with aviation equipment and the last shipment took place on 19 January. The Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that Russia meets Malian needs, and Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s willingness to keep on providing the support to improve the combat capability of the Armed Forces of Mali and training military personnel.
As Andrey Maslov noted to RA Journal, “In the Sahara, Russian participation aimed at stabilisation could also rely on historical partnership with Algeria, the leading regional power, having successfully resolved the security issues within its border and playing a more and more important role for the security of the region as a whole. Being Russia’s strategic partner Algeria historically enjoys friendly relationships with Mali and Mauritania as well”
The South African Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Russian counterpart discussed the joint military exercises the two countries are planning with China for February. Both sides emphasised on the right of sovereign states to carry out joint exercises in compliance with international law and inadmissibility of external interference.
“All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide. It’s the natural course of relations,” the South African Foreign Minister Pandor told reporters.
Regarding cooperation in the military sphere with Sudan, Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Lavrov discussed the agreement on establishing the logistics centre for the Russian Navy in Port-Sudan, on the Red Sea. At their joint press conference the Russian Minister noted that the agreement was signed and now awaits its ratification [by the Sudanese party].
Due to the current geopolitical situation, the external actors strive to secure Africa’s support and limit Russia’s growing influence in the region while African states maintain their neutral positions: “To repeat that (call on Russia to immediately withdraw troops from Ukraine)… to Mr Lavrov today would make me appear quite simplistic and infantile, given the massive transfer of arms (to Ukraine) … and all that has occurred (since),” says the South African Foreign Minister Pandor.
Main image: Press Service of the Russian Foreign Ministry