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Russia is taking new steps in Africa

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — China’s activities on the African continent have been discussed around the world for more than a decade. However, in recent years a new player has appeared in the region – Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Russia’s closest partners in Africa are the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Sudan. We have gathered information about the Kremlin’s growing influence in the military, political and economic spheres.

1. Arms trade and PMC representatives

Russia’s activities in Africa became the subject of international discussion in July last year, when three Russian journalists died in an ambush in a former French colony of the Central African Republic. Reporters worked on a documentary about Russian mercenaries in Central Africa.

Russia said it was an armed robbery of reporters by local rebels. However, the Dossier Center organization, which is engaged in investigative journalism, funded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, conducted its own business and came to the conclusion that Russian mercenaries were involved in the killing of reporters.

The appearance of armed Russians in a remote state in the heart of Africa has raised the concerns of security experts. It painfully recalls the situation with the capture of the Crimea.

According to investigators of journalists and mercenaries, PMC “Wagner”, a private military company with close ties with Russian ministries of foreign affairs and defense, sent Central Africa to Central Africa.

The founder of the company is “Putin’s cook”, a famous businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. Political science professor Kimberly Martin of Barnard College, Columbia University, said Prigozhin has been a close associate of Vladimir Putin since the 1990s.

In the struggle for power, rebel groups forced the Central African Republic to extract gold and diamonds, which are of interest to Russia, using the most primitive methods. According to CNN, the company owned by Prigogine received extensive mining rights.

At the same time, Russia is delivering weapons to the government of the Central African Republic. Former Russian intelligence officer – Security Advisor to the President of the African State.

Not all locals were glad about the appearance of the Russians. In the Central African Republic this year, there have been reports of cases where Russian mercenaries were suspected of killing and torturing local civilians. Incidents occurred at a Russian military base in the central part of the country.

Diamond mining is probably just one of the things that interest Russia in Central Africa. But it is difficult to find an equally reasonable explanation for Russia’s actions in a distant state with which it has no traditional ties. “One possibility is that Putin wants to create a large military base in central Africa,” researcher Kimberly Marten suggests in a telephone interview with Yle.

A neighbor of the Central African Republic of Sudan, who until recently was headed by dictator Omar al-Bashir, is currently a long-term partner of Russia. According to Time magazine, Russia has long supported the regime of al-Bashir and sent him its military equipment and weapons. However, the Sudanese army overthrew al-Bashir in April.

Russia also provided military support to Libyan rebel general Khalifa Haftar, whose troops had been trying for months to recapture the country’s capital from a government backed by the international community.

Russia is conducting military cooperation with at least 19 African countries. There are agreements, for example, with the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Mozambique and Ethiopia, told the Financial Times.

Russia exports a large volume of weapons to Africa. The share of Russian arms exports in 2014-2018 was even slightly larger than in the Middle East. This is partly due to the long-standing arms trade with Algeria.

Perhaps the most mysterious forms of cooperation are observed in West African Guinea, where Russia’s largest bauxite mine was in the hands of Russia. Based on data for 2014-2016, the same Russian company that mined aluminum used to produce bauxite created two microbiological laboratories during the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Russian military researchers are secretly testing a new Ebola vaccine, and local authorities cannot get access to the laboratory.

2. Bribery of presidential candidates and fake news

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, both politically and economically, supported many leftist governments in Africa. For example, during the civil war in Angola, Moscow provided military assistance to the MPLA communist movement.

The government of Guinean socialist leader Sekou Toure received generous financial support from the Soviet Union in the early stages. When the Soviet Union collapsed, African cooperation lost its significance.

Since the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia has again stepped up efforts in Africa to strengthen its political influence. In recent years, Russian ministers and diplomats have traveled to Africa to conclude agreements on political cooperation.

Russia’s strategic goals in Africa are reflected in a document leaked by the press to Prigozhin company, submitted to Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in October 2018, the Dossier Center reports.

Russian electoral influence has not spared the affairs of the African continent. Russia, according to a BBC investigation, intervened in the affairs of the former French colonies in Madagascar last year during the presidential election, trying to bribe a number of candidates.

But, according to Professor Marten, the president-elect Andri Radzuelin would have won without Russia’s help. “Russia spent huge sums of money in Madagascar, but it seems that nothing has been achieved,” says Martin.

One of Russia’s goals is to weaken the influence of France in Africa. France still has significant economic and political power in its former colonies. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, in order to strengthen political influence, Russia used fake news. Russian strategy papers for Africa also mention the goal of taking control of traditional media.

The next step in Russian-African cooperation will be made in the fall. On October 24, Russia will hold a summit in Sochi, bringing together representatives of more than 50 African countries to discuss future relations.

“The reasons why Russia has begun to work more actively with many African countries are not economic. In other words, the reasons are mostly political, ”says Laura Solanko, Bank of Finland’s economic expert on Russia.

Russia’s activities in various parts of Africa are constantly expanding. However, the scale is still small compared, for example, with the United States, Britain and France, which have long-standing political and economic relations with African states.

Although the United States has reduced the number of its delegations in Africa, they still have many trade and economic ties with the continent. “We must remember that the Russian economy is smaller than the economy of the United States, so it does not have the same resources,” says Solanko.

3. Diamond mines and nuclear projects

Russian economic activity in Africa includes nuclear projects, mining projects and diamonds, as well as the oil and gas business. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that trade with countries south of the Sahara in 2016-2017 brought Russia more than three billion dollars a year.

Russia has invested significant amounts in oil and gas production, for example, in Algeria and in West Africa. Russia’s hydropower projects continue to be implemented in Angola, South Africa and Tanzania.

From metals, Russian companies mine nickel in South Africa and produce aluminum in Nigeria. In the nuclear field, the Russian company Rosatom in recent years has established cooperation with several states, including Zambia, Sudan and Rwanda. Russia has shown interest in the uranium resources of Namibia for more than a decade.

According to Solanko, Russia can be a convenient trading partner for authoritarian African countries, since it does not require the development of democracy and respect for human rights, as Western countries do when concluding trade agreements.

Both the Soviet Union and Russia have always allocated money to other states for development projects. In the 1990s, under Boris Yeltsin, this assistance declined as Russia’s own economic situation worsened after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Under Putin, everything changed as Russia again began to occupy a strong position in international organizations. It provides assistance to Africa, the amount of which varies from tens of millions to several hundred million dollars.

Solanko considers it unlikely that in the future Russia will be very committed to small, remote African countries. According to her, long-term partnerships usually require cultural ties or a common history between countries, such as during the colonial period.

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