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Russia-Africa

The Washington Post: As the U.S. looks elsewhere, Russia seeks a closer relationship with Africa

06.11.2019

Leaders frommore than 40 African nations descended on the southern Russian city of Sochi last week, shaking hands, snapping photos and inking billions of dollars in business deals. President Vladimir Putin met with six presidents on Thursday alone.

The splashy show of unity, dubbed the first Russia-Africa summit, sent a clear message to the world, Putintold guests: It had opened up a new page in the history of Russias relations with African countries.
That new page comes as Russia is already Africas biggest arms supplier and aims to restore links that crumbled after the Soviet Union collapsed, through infrastructure projects and security reinforcement.
Moscow offering power plants,attack helicoptersand mercenaries is hailing itself a major player on the continent at a time when the United States and China are also vying for influence, analysts say.

The Kremlin unveiled plans to double trade with African countries to $40billion while making a symbolic statement with nuclear bombers: Two Tupolev Tu-160slandedin South Africa for a first-time training mission as the meeting on the Black Sea kicked off Wednesday.

The Trump administration has pledged to foster more business ties with African partnerswhile countering Chinese and Russian influence on the continent, which it hascalleda significant threat to national security interests.But analysts say the other superpowers are perceived in Africa as more invested Chinese and Russian leaders visibly spend more time with their African counterparts.
The U.S. isnt paying attention, and Russia is rushing in to fill the void, said Paul Stronski, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peaces Russia and Eurasia Program.

The United States is the globes top foreign-aid donor abouta thirdof those funds go to Africa and runs dozens of military bases that supply manpower, training and intelligence on the continent. U.S. trade with Africa, at $39billion, still eclipses Russias.

Moscow, which has a smaller pocketbook, is seeking to gain the upper hand with a flood of soft power, Stronski said.
Putin made the 14-hour flight to South Africa last year, for instance. President Trump has yet to visit the continent. (His wife, first lady Melania Trump, and daughter Ivanka Trump made trips last year.)
Russia welcomed 43 heads of state or government, along with dozens of business and community leaders, in Sochi. Trump has hosted a much smallerset of African leaders, including official visits from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In a Thursday speech in the resort city, Putin asserted that his country has supported the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism and apartheid. (Trump sparked outrage on the continentlast yearafter referring to some African nations by a derogatory phrasein a White House meeting.)

The Trump administrations biggest event on the continent to date, meanwhile, irked some African observers, whocriticized the United Statesfor sending no Cabinet heads to an event attended by 11 African presidents.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was supposed to promote Prosper Africa, a program meant to increase business partnerships,at JunesU.S.-Africa Business Summitin the southern nation of Mozambique but canceled because of a scheduling conflict.
The program, widely seen as the White Houses Africa strategy, was designed to provide technical help to companies trying to enter or expand in Africa, which is urbanizing more quickly than anywhere else.
The Sochi summit spawned $12.5billion in business deals, largely in arms and grains, the Kremlin said. But most of those contracts made no guarantee of investment, the Financial Timesreported.
Russia is highlighting collaboration over aid, and that message is tempting to some leaders who view the Wests outreach as patronizing, said Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute African Center for Peace Studies in Dakar.

Africa no longer wants to have all our eggs in one basket, Sambe said. We want equal exchanges, as opposed to colonial power relations.

Earlier this month, Russiaannounced plansto send more weapons and instructors to the Central African Republic to aid the governments battle against rebel groups a move that bolsters its biggest military footprint on the continent.
Putin wants to forge strategic alliances with like-minded rulers, said Joshua Meservey, an Africa analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
African countries are the largest voting bloc in the U.N., he said, and they frequently vote together.
The Washington Post, 25.10.19
On the photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Cyril Ramafosa at the opening of the summit in Sochi


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