Alwaght- For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia hosted a joint summit with tens of African countries.
At the meeting, held in the Russian resort city of Sochi, President Vladimir Putin hosted leaders of 47 African states. In addition to the political leaders, thousands of businessmen and economic activists from both sides joined the meeting to discuss bilateral cooperation.
Russian return to Africa
Decades ago, when Russia was the center of the Soviet Union, Moscow made considerable moves in Africa. It supported the pro-liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, and intervened in the Uganda-Congo tensions, and backed leftist regime of Ethiopia. These were just part of its activism in Africa.
This activism ended with the breakdown of the Soviet Union. For a couple of decades after the Soviet rule, Moscow sought no specific role in Africa. Now the Saturday meeting expresses the Russian effort to return to Africa.
Fixing up Russian global role
Since 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea to its territory, the international order seemed to go a fast track towards change. Before that, the Russian demonstration of force was limited to some saber rattling. In fact, post-Soviet Russia never secured its global role. However, Crimea annexation was a harbinger of big changes.
After Crimea takeover, the Russian government staunchly backed the Syrian government, embattled at home as a host of opposition groups and terrorist organizations were armed by foreign countries, mainly the US and its regional Arab allies, to take down President Bashar al-Assad. In Syria, thousands of kilometers away from Russia, Russia acted successfully, tipping the scales of power to Assad’s favor. Along with Iran, it grabbed the Syrian government from the verge of collapse and made an increasingly strong administration out of it, with the ability to take back vast territories from the terrorists.
The growing Russian influence did not stop in Syria. There were allegations that Moscow manipulated the 2016 US presidential elections. Some American circles directly accused Putin of supporting Donald Trump campaign. Some analysts, and even politicians, called Trump Putin’s “puppet” in the US.
Although the Russians dismissed the charges and inside the US the accusers could never prove their allegations, as the story unfolded, some European countries shared the same stress saying that they had fears about Moscow’s possible influencing of their politics and elections.
The recent Russian summit with Africa more displays the Russian stretch of the role as a player on the global stage that stands as an economic opportunity for Moscow.
According to figures published by Carnegie Institute, a Michigan-based think tank and politics college, since 2015 at least 12 African leaders traveled to Moscow and met with Russia’s Putin. This means that over the past four years, at least three African leaders visited Russia every year, showing interest in expanding ties with the Kremlin. It also means that the course Russia has taken over the past years to get a toehold in Africa has been fruitful.
Why is Africa important for Russia?
Politically, the African countries have a remarkable weight in international organizations. Quantitatively, they are a heavy scale on the global arena. The Organizations for Islamic Cooperation and Non-Aligned Members are made of states which have decisive voices and votes globally. One-thirds of the United Nations members and three members of the Security Council are from Africa. They can back up Russia’s diplomatic movements when the need arises.
Moreover, the Russian expansion of clout in Africa will give it an empowering privilege against other powers, mainly the US, Europe, and even China. Africa is also a broadening market. Russia can use that. In addition to a business partnership with Russia, the African militaries look at Moscow as a reliable partner and provider of arms.
The Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s call for Russia to sign weapons deal on the sidelines of the Sochi meeting indicates how much the African arms market can be attractive for Moscow.
The Central African Republic is in talks with Russia to host the first Russian military base in Africa. This will double Africa’s significance for the Russian leader and set it as a new contest setting for Russia and the West.