In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited leaders of all African states to the first Russian-African Summit 2019. The event is set to take place on October 23-24, 2019 in the resort city of Sochi in coordination with President Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Al-Sisi as interim chairman of the African Union.
The conference, the first of its kind at this level in the history of Russia-Africa relations, will focus on three aspects of economic relations development, implementation of joint projects and cooperation in humanitarian and social spheres.
Africa under the Magnifying Glass of Russia
If we look at Africa in the US National Intelligence Council’s forward-looking documents examining the process of change by 2030 we will find that “many African countries have the opportunity to progress gradually, while others are likely to lag behind and create a diverse Africa in 2030. Meanwhile, the continent’s natural resources and untapped wealth on the one hand, and widespread corruption in governments on the other, have led democracy to regress despite various elections.
”The reality is that Africa is an unknown and untapped land for exploitation by the superpowers, including Russia. Moscow puts emphasis on Africa’s status in Paragraph 97 of its foreign policy doctrine which underlines Russia’s multidimensional interaction with African countries based on bilateral and multilateral cooperation, relying on political dialogue and the development of trade-economic relations.
Therefore, the Russian authorities have set out to develop partnerships with the African Union and regional sub-agencies to move along this path. In particular, the Russians face serious rivals for their presence in Africa. Statistics show that between 2000 and 2015, the Chinese government and contractors have provided more than $94 billion in loans to African countries. The Americans have also infiltrated the continent not only through donations but also through their military presence in the strategic areas of the continent, taking their influence a step further than the Chinese. Today, the US troops are present in Chad, Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya and Niger.
Importance of the Black Continent for Moscow
Undoubtedly, the Soviet Union once had significant influence in Africa, but after disintegration and outbreak of domestic crises in Russia, Moscow’s foreign policy went into hibernation and recovered a few years ago alarmed by the Syrian crisis and Moscow has now been turned into an important transnational power in the Middle East. The Kremlin’s diplomatic apparatus appears to be paying particular attention to Soviet achievements and seeks to exploit its experiences in that era and in the international system. Now Moscow seems to be dreaming of Africa too, but unlike its rivals it seems to be moving in the direction of developing relations with lights on. Of course we have to wait and see what obstacles will the US and China would throw in the way of Beijing.
In fact, Russia regards Africa a major market for its weapons, which is closely competing with the United States. Algeria is Moscow’s biggest customer on the continent, while the Kremlin is slowly attracting Egypt as another US customer.
Moscow more than any other time, pursues its active Soviet foreign policy on the basis of its wisdom and experience, eyeing Africa’s intact, albeit unknown market. In the meantime, Moscow seems to be adhering to a win-win approach with its American and Chinese partners in Africa to minimize their negative stances.
Perspective of Russian-African Relations
During the summit, discussions will be held within the context of developing Russian-African economic relations, increasing the budget for expansion of joint Russian-African transactions, and prospects for developing Eurasian-African economic relations, as well as transforming digital tools and cyber security. Al-Sisi’s presence as the chair of the African Union can further strengthen the ground for promotion of Moscow’s ties with Africa. Perhaps this is why one of the most important issues that Moscow pursues is the creation of the Russian industrial zone in the geostrategic zone of the Suez Canal on Egyptian soil.
The Sochi Summit will bring together more than 3,000 business representatives of African countries as well as heads of major Russian business and trade companies to mark a turning point in the development of Russian-African relations. The event, organized by the Roscongress Foundation also seeks to take steps to improve the quality of life, the level of education and medical services for the African continent.
On the whole, it seems that holding the first Russia-Africa conference could provide the basis for positive developments in Russian-African relations, although in this way the US and China are both competitors and, of course, regarded serious obstacles in the way of Russian influence in Africa.