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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 24th October 2019

From Russia with geopolitics

Blue Lines

Although he pulled in dozens of Africa's leaders to the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi on 23-24 October, Russia's President Vladimir Putin is years behind the competition in courting Africa. Russia-Africa trade has doubled to US$20.4 billion over the past five years but that is a tenth of China-Africa business. Russia isn't in the top five trading partners with Africa, something Putin says he wants to remedy as a foreign policy priority.

His special subjects are nuclear power and the military. Africa now buys a third of Russia's arms exports. As the summit opened at the Black Sea resort, two Tupolev TU-160 strategic nuclear bombers touched down at the Waterkloof Air Force base in South Africa, presumably as a symbol of military cooperation.

But relations between South Africa and Russia remain strained after President Cyril Ramaphosa shelved his predecessor's plans to spend over $80 billion on nuclear power projects to be built by Rosatom. Undaunted, Rosatom's sales representatives have been touting their wares to gas and oil-rich Nigeria as well as Ethiopia, whose mega-hydro plants will make it one of Africa's top power exporters over the next five years.

Putin is co-hosting the summit with Egypt's Abdel Fattah el Sisi – the two leaders are working together in Libya in support of the rebel general Khalifa Haftar, whose military campaign against the Tripoli government is bogged down. Moscow says it has military cooperation deals with at least 15 states.