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Five essential reads on Russia-Africa relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L). Photo by Sean Gallup - Pool /Getty Images

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, will visit four African nations – Ethiopia, Egypt, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville – from Sunday 24 July. The visit comes ahead of the second Russia-Africa summit, expected to be held in Addis Ababa in October-November.

The first Russia-Africa Summit was held in Sochi, Russia in 2019 and attended by several African heads of state and government.

During his visit, Lavrov will meet heads of state and business, in what has been billed as a “working visit”.

The Conversation Africa has published numerous articles by experts on Russia’s relationship with Africa. Here we present five essential reads.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has not attracted universal condemnation in Africa. So the visit is likely to be viewed as much more than a precursor for the upcoming summit and more as a charm offensive by Moscow. Theo Neethling sets out how Moscow has been growing its strategic influence in Africa.

Read more: How Russia is growing its strategic influence in Africa

For a while now, competition among the world powers for influence in Africa has been seen as primarily between the United States and China. But research shows that President Vladimir Putin is intent on tilting the global balance of power in Russia’s favour, in line with his vision of restoring Moscow’s Soviet era status as a super power. On this view, Putin is determined to counter America’s influence and match China’s large economic footprint on the continent. János Besenyő examines whether Russia can offer an alternative to the US and China in Africa.

Read more: Russia in Africa: can it offer an alternative to the US and China?

The vision of the African Union is for the continent to act in concert on global issues. But there wasn’t much evidence of this pan-Africanist approach in the way the continent voted on United Nations resolutions to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. John J Stremlau shows how some African nations voted either for or against Russia, while others, notably South Africa, abstained.

Read more: African countries showed disunity in UN votes on Russia: South Africa's role was pivotal

Political and security analyst Joseph Siegle argues that Russia’s approach to Africa involves an elite cooption strategy, with the aim of serving Russia’s strategic objectives. Siegle explains that the interests of African citizens and nations give way to Russian priorities, with destabilising effects.

Read more: Ukraine war: fresh warning that Africa needs to be vigilant against Russia's destabilising influence

Military equipment is a key factor in the relationship between Russia and several African countries. In fact, almost half of Africa’s imports of military equipment (49%) come from Russia. These include major arms (battle tanks, warships, fighter aircraft and combat helicopters) and small arms (pistols and assault rifles, such as the new Kalashnikov AK-200 series rifle). Defence analyst Moses Khanyile reveals how the sanctions imposed on Russia by the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance will disrupt sales. This will bring both risks and opportunities for the continent.

Read more: Sanctions against Russia will affect arms sales to Africa: the risks and opportunities

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