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  • Endris Mekonnen Faris

Russia’s rising and declining in Africa

How long will take for Russia before making a sound comeback to Africa again? Only time tells this.

Russia, under Putin’s decade-long strong leadership, was able to slowly reclaim the long-lost spheres of influence in international relations since the end of the Cold War. Empirical shreds of evidence ground this also. Africa, in particular, has increasingly been embracing mighty Russia over the last decades where security-tied affairs occur to be an exclusively dominant field wherein the two interacted most.


Powerful state and non-state actors of world politics grudgingly accepted Russia’s comeback but parallelly embarked on working on its re-containment. Now Russia is trapped in a war against Ukraine- a war that actually understood as a mighty Kremlin is fighting against mighty Europe and the United States on several fronts. As such, for almost a year now Russia’s political projection remained confined largely within a short radius reaching Ukraine, a significant shrink to its overseas presence in the broader global south. Putin’s attempts to firmly put Russia at the heart of global politics that goes as far as regaining the lost influence in Africa show a significant rollback. Russia’s return to Africa faced a significant hurdle but Kremlin spent a considerable period in the continent which provides an opportunity to understand the Afro-Russia relations for the last ten years until another rereturn attempt to reach out will be made.

Developments that mirrored Russia’s return to Africa

History records well that the two giant geographies kept a lengthy connection that crosses generations despite endless disruptions. All disruptions that caused disconnections between Africa and Russia, however, are dominantly not emanating from disagreements of any sort they themselves generated. At the heart of these disconnections lies the direct and indirect roles the West state and non-state actors have been playing. This includes the phenomenon that virtually halted Russia’s political advance in Africa. Russia is engulfed in a war against Ukraine where the whole western power continues playing a leading role. This indirectly engenders a considerable regression for the first time after a solid decade of engagements of Russia in Africa competing for influence.



Pundits point out that the years of the 2000s marked the revival of Russia’s interest in Africa enhanced significantly by close diplomatic ties after Putin visited some of the countries. Coupled with the full restoration of all embassies, consulates, and cultural centers in all African states Russia’s return demonstrated a steady growth manifested in a few confluence of worth-mentioning three developments.


The first has to deal with arms supply the Russian Federation continues to overwhelmingly dominate African public discourse. Arm supply synonyms Russia as far as ruling discourses in Africa are concerned. Africa’s arms proliferation paralleled Russia’s sound post-Cold War return to the continent and available data never failed to prove this. Russia offers African states unfettered access to weapons ranging from military aircraft to missiles and engines and unabated. Russia covers nearly 50% of global arms export to Africa. This has now faced a crippling challenge as Russia invaded Ukraine and the world’s powerful actors sanctioned Kremlin’s access to the global financial system.



The second phenomenon that coupled Russia’s return to Africa marked with its ambition to build several military bases in the continent's sensitive geopolitical locations. As part of such an expansive presence that explains Russia’s return to the continent Kremlin inked military cooperation agreements with well over twenty African countries since 2015. This move has long been understood as Russia’s aim to permanently deploy its troops of all forms in Africa, a major challenge to the decades of U.S. and French dominance. After long inaction, despite observable advances Russia has made in Africa, Washington ended its passive roles in the security arena and has joined the fray both upfront and from afar. The U.S. and its western allies confronted Russia in Ukraine where Putin is facing one of the most serious military challenges in his leadership career with a potential redrawing of Russia’s priorities abroad, and Africa will see the effect of this plan.


The Russia-Africa summit, the third and unprecedented phenomenon, takes Russia’s rise in Africa to a different level. With this tool, Russia would be able to even reach out to all countries in Africa and at all levels of possible cooperation. Under the practice of this platform, all sorts of presence and actions will be formal, take a form hard to scrutinize, and enable parties to adapt to any challenge they face. Russia is not the first powerful global actor to forge a summit with the African states altogether. The move offers broad buffers to Russian influence and a shield from accusations that Kremlin supports isolated political leaders. But this has now faced uncertainty mainly because of Russia’s huge involvement in the war it has been fighting against Ukraine which continues consuming resources and forcing Russia to rearrange priorities. Will a stranded Russia be able to bring all African countries to a huge platform of such kind to address multilayers of affairs?



Could Russia save its decline in Africa?

The majority of global actors in the West wanted to maintain a sphere of influence where other abled actors, such as mighty Russia, play a passive role with relatively strict adherence to the playbook they authored, be it in Africa or Asia. Defiant to this discourse that rules international relations, Russia, under Putin’s leadership, rejoined the contested sphere of influence. For a while, defiant Russia enjoyed an unchallenged rising in Africa. However, this looks now in a declining trend following the Russia-Ukraine war. Could Russia save its decline in Africa and make a sound rereturn?

Many would say “yes” to answer this question simply because a closer look at Russia’s actions in international relations follows strategies that focus more on filling power vacuums and seizing opportunities to correct the faults of other great powers. This grows unchanged over the last several years in Africa where Russia rehabilitated its lost ties and emerged formidable before its slow decline.


References

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2021/09/17/russia-asymmetric-strategy-expanding-influence-in-africa-security-moscow/

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2022/03/21/how-russia-is-pursuing-state-capture-in-africa-ukraine-wagner-group/

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2022/02/02/the-future-of-russia-africa-relations/

https://republic.com.ng/august-september-2020/a-changing-dynamic/

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/commentary/article/russia-s-return-to-africa/

https://www.marshallcenter.org/en/publications/marshall-center-books/russias-global-reach-security-and-statecraft-assessment/chapter-10-russia-and-africa-expanding-influence-and

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1693105?journalCode=rwaq20&journalCode=rwaq20

https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/10/16/late-to-party-russia-s-return-to-africa-pub-80056

https://www.voanews.com/a/russia-steadily-rebuilding-presence-in-africa/6452193.html

https://www.clingendael.org/publication/russias-growing-presence-africa-implication-eu-policy

https://africacenter.org/experts/russias-strategic-objectives-and-influences-in-africa/

https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/russias-authoritarianism-looms-over-international-order-africa-34914

http://democracyinafrica.org/russia-in-africa-undermining-democracy-through-elite-capture/

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