- The two-day Putin’s Russia-Africa summit 2023, held in St. Petersburg, is seen by Putin as a major event to bolster ties with Africa, a continent with 1.3 billion people that is increasingly assertive on the global stage.
- African food security is set to take center stage at the summit in St. Petersburg, where Moscow seeks to portray itself as Africa’s ally.
- Arms deals and the influence of the Wagner paramilitary group will likely be key topics of interest and discussion during the summit.
African leaders have arrived in Russia for the Russia-Africa Summit 2023 with President Vladimir Putin as he seeks allies amid the fighting in Ukraine. However, the Kremlin has accused Western powers of making “outrageous” efforts to pressure other African heads of state not to attend the event.
The two-day Russia-Africa summit 2023, being held in St. Petersburg, is seen by Putin as a major event to bolster ties with Africa, a continent with 1.3 billion people that is increasingly assertive on the global stage. This marks the second Russia-Africa summit since 2019. However, the number of heads of state attending has significantly reduced, from 43 in the previous summit to only 17 now. The Kremlin attributes this decrease to crude Western pressure discouraging African nations from participating.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed his dismay over the “unconcealed brazen interference” of the U.S., France, and other states through their diplomatic missions in African countries. Peskov emphasized that these efforts to pressure African leaders will not prevent the summit’s success.
Despite the limited number of heads of state attending, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov pointed out that 32 other African countries will be represented by senior government officials or ambassadors, demonstrating their commitment to engaging with Russia.
President Putin’s assurance before the Russia-Africa Summit 2023
In a statement on Wednesday, Putin reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to assisting African partners in strengthening their national and cultural sovereignty. He highlighted the need for a more active role in resolving regional and global challenges.
During the summit, Putin held one-on-one talks with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. In the meeting, Russia pledged to increase the number of Ethiopian students it hosts threefold and cover their education costs. Ethiopia’s government has faced pressure from the U.S. and the World Food Program due to a significant aid theft discovery, leading to the suspension of food aid earlier this year. The country seeks reforms that involve the government giving up control over aid distribution. Meanwhile, concerns arise about rising hunger in regions like Tigray, recovering from two years of conflict.
Additionally, Putin met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi during the summit. Both leaders hailed the growth of bilateral trade, accounting for about one-third of Russia’s trade with Africa. El-Sissi noted Russia’s involvement in building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant and emphasized the “special character of relations” between the two countries, expressing confidence in achieving significant results through the Russia-Africa summit.
The summit provides an essential platform for dialogue and cooperation between Russia and African countries, despite the challenges posed by external pressures. As the event continues, discussions and negotiations will undoubtedly pave the way for strengthening ties and mutual benefits between Russia and Africa.
Africa’s food security situation
Africa’s food security will take centre stage at the summit in St. Petersburg, where Moscow seeks to portray itself as Africa’s ally.
As the Russia-Africa summit 2023 unfolds, discussions on food security and agricultural cooperation between Russia and African nations will remain a key point of interest, with African leaders looking for viable solutions to strengthen their countries’ food resilience and access to vital resources.
Last week, Moscow’s decision to withdraw from the grain deal drew criticism, with accusations of using the grain deal for political blackmail. The suspension occurred before Russian missiles were launched on the Ukrainian port of Odesa, where the grain was stored.
While some African leaders remained quiet ahead of the summit, Kenyan officials expressed anger. Russia’s ambassador, Dmitry Maksimychev, blamed the United States and the European Union for the deal’s collapse in an opinion piece, asserting they had used various tactics to hinder Russian grain and fertilizer from reaching global markets.
There are expectations that the Kremlin will use the summit to announce a possible restoration of grain supplies, positioning itself as the “savior” of the deal. President Vladimir Putin indicated that Russia could deliver grain and fertilizers to African countries commercially and free of charge, bypassing Ukraine.
Russia claims to have a record harvest this year, but foreign analysts anticipate only symbolic amounts of grain to be dispersed free as aid. Instead, the focus is on commercial grain deliveries directly to African countries, possibly facilitated through third-party intermediaries like Turkey or Qatar.
Moscow has proposed logistics corridors and hubs to enhance the shipping of food, fertilizers, and other products. However, specific details and timelines have remained disclosed. Western sanctions’ impact on banking and insurance has constrained Russia’s ability to sell wheat internationally, despite exporting record quantities.
Trade between Russia and Africa has maintained a steady volume of approximately $15 to $20 billion (€13-€18 billion) over the past years. However, analysts note that these relatively small trade volumes make Moscow a less appealing economic partner for African nations than China and Western countries. Russian investments in Africa also remain limited, comprising about 1% of foreign direct investment. As a result, Russia faces challenges in becoming a prominent player in Africa’s economic landscape. As such, efforts remain necessary to increase trade and investment relations for mutual benefit.
Arms deals will likely be another key topic of interest and discussion during the summit. Despite the impact of the Ukraine war on Russia’s arms business, the country maintains its position as the leading weapons supplier to Africa, holding a market share of 40 per cent. In comparison, the US accounts for 16 per cent of the market, while China and France hold shares of approximately 10 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.
Among the African nations, Uganda stands out as one of the largest weapons buyers from Russia, which remains Africa’s top arms supplier. Additionally, other countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, Angola, and Burkina Faso are also significant buyers of arms from Russia. This makes arms deals an appealing aspect of Russia’s engagement with African countries, and discussions on this matter may play a significant role during the summit.
The Wagner Group Factor
The presence and influence of the Wagner paramilitary group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has contributed to the growing Russian presence in Africa. Many often view Wagner as an informal tool for Moscow’s foreign policy and serves as a security service in conflict-affected African states.
In particular, Wagner has provided security support to the Central African Republic and Mali governments. However, its actions have drawn international scrutiny, leading to sanctions imposed by the United States on three Malian officials, including the defense minister. Allegations of human rights abuses and destabilizing activities conducted by Wagner while helping to fund its operations in Ukraine prompted these sanctions.
The Wagner Group’s involvement in Africa has also sparked tensions between neighboring countries. For instance, in May, the leader of Burkina Faso’s military refuted claims by the president of Ghana that his country had hired Russian mercenaries from Wagner.
Apart from strengthening ties on behalf of Moscow, the Wagner Group also benefits financially from gaining access to Africa’s abundant natural resources, including gold, oil, and diamonds. This involvement in resource-rich regions further enhances Russia’s presence and influence in the African continent.