The Russian foreign minister, who has both been touring Africa in recent days, is trying to win friends and popular favor on the next front in the battle between the West and Moscow, Britain’s Guardian wrote on Monday. The newspaper’s correspondent looked at Russia’s strategy to strengthen its influence on this continent and the risk it poses, Western officials said. He stressed that one of the main actors through which the Kremlin wants to strengthen its position in African countries is the so-called Wagner group, whose mercenaries support local regimes in the fight against the rebels.
In his analysis, Guardian correspondent Jason Burke noted that many African leaders refused to condemn Russia for its aggression against Ukraine during a UN General Assembly vote in early March. Although the document was passed by a majority of 141 to 5, almost half of the abstentions – 17 out of 35 – African countries, and one – Eritrea – were against. At the same time, hundreds of millions of Africans are facing rising food prices and in some cases severe food shortages as a result of hostilities in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters.
The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, on his trip to Africa is trying to convince local leaders and – to a much lesser extent – the community of African countries that Moscow is not responsible for either the war or the food crisis, the Guardian assessed. . Lavrov appreciated what he called the “independent path” taken by African states that have not joined Western sanctions against Russia and “the efforts of the United States and its European satellites to . . . establish a unipolar world order.” lay’.
However, the British daily noted that Russia’s efforts to win friends in Africa go beyond the events of recent months. Russia’s ties to African countries have been strengthened thanks to investments in mining, financial loans and the sale of agricultural machinery and nuclear technology. Russia was also the largest exporter of weapons to Sub-Saharan Africa from 2016 to 2020, accounting for nearly a third of all military equipment delivered to the region, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) noted, quoted by the Guardian.
Wagner Group Activities in Africa
According to The Guardian, one of the main actors who helped Russia strengthen its influence in some African countries was the so-called Wagner Group, a private military company linked to the Kremlin and whose mercenaries supported the governments of several African countries.
Their actions were not always successful, such as during the fighting with Islamist rebels in Mozambique. Wagner’s fighters also went unnoticed on the battlefield in Libya, where they supported forces led by Khalifa Haftar in the offensive on Tripoli in 2019.
The Wagnerians, the author believes, managed to achieve geopolitical success for Russia as a result of their actions in Mali, where the new regime in Bamako forced the main French forces fighting against jihadist rebels into the country. In contrast, in Sudan, where last year’s military coup disrupted the already fragile process of democratic transformation, Russian companies linked to the Wagner group controlled gold mines even before the fall of Omar al-Bashir’s regime in 2019.
Another key location for Russia is the Central African Republic, where more than a thousand Wagner mercenaries launched a series of bloody offensives against the rebels in exchange for mining concessions. According to witnesses quoted by the Guardian, Russian militants have carried out brutal attacks on gold mines in the east of the country in recent months, most likely targeting only theft.
One of Lavrov’s travel destinations was Uganda. The country used to have close relations with the United States and Great Britain. However, these have been worsened by the Ugandan government’s pacification of political unrest and Western pressure to recognize the rights of LGBT people. Yoweri Museveni, a longtime Ugandan president, accused the West of meddling in his country’s internal affairs.
The relationship between the West and Ethiopia, wherever Lavrov goes, has also suffered recently from the Tigray War. However, in the Guardian’s view, discussions in Addis Ababa will focus on financial and technological issues rather than military issues.
The influence of history on the position of Russia
According to the British newspaper, one of the reasons Moscow enjoys support in African countries is the fact that many of them are still ruled by the same groups that received support from the USSR in its struggle to free itself from the rule of the colonial empires. or white supremacists. While few in the younger generation of Africans have experienced this struggle, leaders from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique remember that Soviet weapons, cash and advisers helped them win their freedom, the Guardian wrote.
Moscow has been trying to use this story since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, emphasizing that Russia “never colonized Africa” and is on the side of the continent’s population against Western neo-imperialism.
According to Western officials, Moscow’s strategy is risky, as the regimes and leaders it targets are often corrupt, repressive and unpopular. The Guardian, citing an unnamed study, noted that the 27 African countries that supported the UN resolution are mainly democracies, allies of the West. By contrast, most of those who voted differently are authoritarian or hybrid regimes.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS