“Currently, the scope for Russian-African partnership is significantly expanding. This process is unlikely to end in breakthroughs, but there is little doubt that Russia will try hard to restore its full-scale cooperation with African countries, the success of which would assist the mutual interests of both sides and contribute to the establishment of a just and multipolar world order under the complex and contradictory conditions of the 21st century.“ [source]
“Putin has led Russia into an active part in United Nations peacekeeping in Africa, dispatching troops to operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Western Sahara…At the same time, Russia is pouring resources into gathering information about Africa to better shape its policymaking. To cite just one example, the Institute for African Studies within the Russian Academy of Sciences now embraces thirteen research units, a working group, and an information center, employing a total of more than one hundred academic staff members—a substantial commitment of public resources to research that is unmatched by any other government.” -Atlantic Council, March 13, 2014
“Trade with African countries is steadily on the rise. In 2014, it grew by 17 percent, to reach $12.5 billion … there is still a huge potential for increasing cooperation.”[source]
Russia is the biggest arms supplier in Africa, Angola being its most important client. It is highly engaged in hydro carbons (Algeria, Angola, Nigeria …) and interestingly there have been several reports of nuclear projects on the cards in Namibia, Egypt, Uganda and Kenya.
“President Putin has emphasized the importance of strengthening Russia’s presence in the global arms market, including Africa. This shift towards emerging economies played a major part in boosting arms exports in 2014, reaching a record $13.3 billion — it is expected to once again surpass the $13 billion line in 2015. In fact, over the last decade, 35.1% of total arms imports in Africa originated from Russia.” Gustavo Plácido Dos Santos researcher at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS) [source]
Russia’s arms industry is its second biggest export sector as well as being the second biggest arms exporter in the world after the United States. Russia today is very focused on its own economic and geopolitical interests. This can be witnessed by looking at the parts of Africa where Russia is most active. Whilst it is resource rich it faces the fact that some of its mineral resources are either exhausted or close to being depleted and, in other cases, are uneconomic and difficult to mine using its current technology in Siberia where the resources are mostly located.
“A recent announcement by Uganda’s Oil Ministry that a Russian company – RT Global Resources – won the bid to build a $3bn oil refinery highlights the Kremlin’s attempts to return as a major player in Africa. RT Global Resources is a subsidiary of Russia’s largest state-backed corporation Rostec whose CEO, Sergey Chemezov, is on US and EU sanctions lists after Russia’s moves in Ukraine. Chemezov, nicknamed “Putin’s arms dealer” and a long-time friend of the president, is leading the company in moves designed to ease Russia’s access to strategic minerals, build much-needed trade, and bolster employment in Russia, analysts say.” -Aljazeera, March 2015
Russia has a complex history in relation to Africa, as the former leading state within USSR it supported the 24,000 students who were educated in Russia annually and 200,000 in Africa including some who went on to become heads of states in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. The USSR actually had a clause within its constitution to support anti-colonial liberation movements. With the collapse of USSR, Russia was preoccupied with internal affairs so has a lost decade as far as relations with Africa are concerned and at a time when China stepped up its pivot to Africa.
“Last year (2014) Russia launched a satellite system in partnership with South Africa, known as Project Condor, providing surveillance of the entire African continent, according to spy cables leaked to Al Jazeera. The cables identify South African and Russian military intelligence (GRU) as being the “key role players” in the project.” [source]
One recent example of how Russia is contending with the US in Africa relates to the US declining to supply Nigeria with helicopters to fight Boko Haram leading to a souring of relations. Russia stepped in and supplied Nigeria with Sukoi jets. Russia has found its relations with Africa very useful in the forum of the United Nations, when sanctions were being imposed following its annexation of Crimea many African nations abstained and there were two African nations amongst the 10 who voted against.
At the same time some African countries have also found it useful to have Russia onside. One case in point is Zimbabwe. At a recent high level Russian visit by Denis Manturov, Trade Minster and Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister a $3 billion platinum mining deal (Darwendale project) was signed. Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe Foreign Minister is reported to have praised Russia:
“On behalf of the government and the people of Zimbabwe, we want to express our gratitude for your continued support to this country during an era where we were finding it difficult to penetrate the international markets,… It is in that regard that in April 2014 during a meeting, you identified the Darwendale project. You have been there for us when the western powers in 2008 wanted us to be discussed by the Security Council. You extended your veto and blocked the resolution when they wanted to punish us, and if it were not for you, we could have been destroyed.”
A graphic produced by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) showing the need for access to electricity in Africa
Manturov said Russia was keen to invest in several other sectors in Zimbabwe including agriculture, energy, infrastructure development, tourism, and health. In June this year, a Russian consortium made up of Vi Holdings, state defence conglomerate Rostec and Vneseconombank (VEB), announced plans to explore the platinum concession in Darwendale. Russia has in recent years increased its mining interests in Zimbabwe where it is already exploiting gold and diamonds. The Darwendale project, with production capacity of 600,000 ounces of platinum annually, is expected to become Zimbabwe’s biggest mining operation…” [source]
In some ways Russia is playing catch up with the other big players but its serious long term intent is clear from the scale of resources dedicated to Africa in different respects e.g. academic research facility, huge arms deals, spy satellites, mega oil/gas pipeline, bilateral and multi-lateral meetings and nuclear projects etc. In a period where international tensions are high with the West, Russia like the other BRICS sees vast and growing opportunities in Africa in competition with its major rivals.
“Ana Christina Alves, senior researcher at the Global Powers and Africa Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) and co-author of the report, explains: “Military equipment is undoubtedly the largest and most profitable side of Russia’s trade with Africa though the figures [for arms] unfortunately don’t feature in official bilateral trade data. If these were included, the bilateral trade volume would appear much more impressive.”
Irina Filatova, Professor Emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and a professor at the National Research University, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, explains why Russia is keen to keep up this trade.
“Much of Russia’s exports to Africa consist of military equipment,” she says, “and Russia has not found a market for many of its other exports in Africa. Military equipment is obviously a solid source of funds for Rosoboronexport and ultimately for Russia’s budget.”
Furthermore, the benefits of African arms deals to Russia can seem all the clearer when delving into the actual equipment being traded. According to reports, for example, Russia had been hoping to offload the 18 Su-30 fighter jets to be sent to Angola as part of the recent $1 billion deal ever since India returned them in 2007. They were first sold to India in the late 1990s, and as the country upgraded its military hardware, it used the older Su-30s in part-exchange deals. It is from these returned jets that Angola will acquire its “new” equipment, but this kind of arrangement is far from unique. “It is not the first time Russia has sold less-advanced, outdated, or even below standard military equipment and arms to Africa,” says Shaabani Nzori, graduate of the Gubkin Oil and Gas University and independent analyst based in Moscow. “Russia and its leaders always try to offload their useless, outmoded and obsolete machinery and equipment to Africa, and surprisingly, the Angolan leadership is accepting this.”
Nzori continues, “Of course, Africa should not stop buying Russian arms, but what is really needed is for African governments to be more demanding that they get the right modern arms, and military equipment and not accept to be a waste bin and dumping grounds for Russian obsolete machinery.” [source]
As an assertive World power seeking new spheres of influence Russia’s activity in Africa poses dangers for African people. One aspect of this is the increasing contention between Russia and the West which threatens a repeat of the many negative consequences of the cold war era which lead to proxy wars in Africa and many African countries laden with huge debts mainly from the supply of arms. Present day Russia like other imperial powers are in Africa to secure their own naked interests at the expense of the African people.
“Given growing competition and so far insufficient efforts put forth by the Russian business and government in improving the situation, the role of Russia in gaining access to African resources will remain unduly limited… The experience of West European and Chinese businessmen shows that high profits derived in Africa outweigh all existing commercial and political risks, problems with African bureaucracy and corruption, and deficiencies in the financial and banking systems and other structures. The outflow of profits from Africa was somewhat lower than the inflow of foreign direct investments only at the beginning of the 21st century. On the eve of the 2008 crisis, this difference was 20 billion dollars, with FDI inflows reaching $ 60 billion and the outflow of profits being slightly above $ 40 billion. The volume of Russian-African trade turnover (10.9 billion dollars) is disappointingly low and causes anxiety, even if it is 1.5-2 times higher as the African statistics suggest. We have reason to believe that in the next decade the situation will change for the better. Africa is a market with growing demand and significant improvements in its structure.” [source]
Evgeny Korendyasov PhD, Head of Center for Russian-African Relations Studies at RAS Institute for African Studies and Aleksey Vasilyev Director of the RAS Institute of Africa, RAS Full Member, RIAC Scientific Council member.