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Russia’s Sub-Saharan Africa Policy

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Russia’s relations with Africa started during the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Until the Bandung Conference in 1955, the USSR did not have a specific policy towards Africa. However, after this date, as African countries gained independence, the USSR started to develop relations with these countries and thus gained a place in the continent. Presenting itself as an alternative to the Western model, the USSR both signed economic cooperation agreements with the states in the continent and started to have a political influence on the continent by indirectly participating in civil wars in some countries such as Mozambique and Angola.[1] With the policy initiated by Gorbachev since the mid-1980s, the Soviets withdrew from many points, and Africa was one of the regions they withdrew. Moscow’s separation from the continent was completed in 1992 with the closure of 9 embassies and 13 cultural centers.[2] Russia-Africa relations have come to a breaking point after this date.

In the process that started with Putin’s coming to power in Russia, connection with Africa was re-established. Under Putin, Moscow began to look for ways to regain their relations and influence during the Soviet era. Based on this, relations with Africa have been reconsidered. Russian interest in the continent revived with Putin’s visit to South Africa in 2006.[3] A few months after the visit, a major arms deal was signed with Algeria, followed by diplomatic relations with Libya, Angola, Namibia, and Guinea, especially on an economic basis. Three years after Putin’s visit to South Africa, Medvedev made a presidential tour to Egypt, Nigeria, Angola and Namibia and said the following words on this tour: “At the moment, our duty is to make up for everything lost.”[4]

Especially in 2014, Africa became a turning point in the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Due to the sanctions imposed against Russia, which annexed Crimea on the aforementioned date, the Kremlin sought new alternatives and found new partners in Africa in this context. Russia, which signed economic and commercial agreements with a few countries in Africa in an area that is not subject to sanctions, was trying to find life in its economy that had worsened as a result of the sanctions. As of 2014, Russia has started to increase its effectiveness in Africa. In 2017, the Moscow administration lifted the UN arms embargo in order to equip and train the Central African army[5] and accelerated its return to Africa with the Central African Republic. The USA and Western countries also realize that Russia is returning to Africa at this point.

Russia has developed and developed new investment projects in countries on the continent in order to achieve its geo-economic and geostrategic goals in Sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, it also states that it is committed to the principles of justice, international law, respect for human rights and the sovereignty of African nations. In line with these goals, Moscow organized a summit in Sochi in 2019 and approximately 50 African presidents or prime ministers participated in this summit. One of the highlights of this summit is that Putin is the first summit where he came together with the majority of African countries.[6] At this summit, Putin claimed that Africa is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities and stated that they wanted to help their short countries such as political and diplomatic support, security assistance, economic aid, disease control, humanitarian aid, vocational training.[7]

If we come to Russia’s trade with African countries, we should first talk about arms exports. After oil and natural gas, arms sales are the most important part of Russia’s exports.[8] According to the research organization SIPRI, arms sales to African countries between 2014 and 2019 correspond to 16 percent of Russia’s arms exports.[9] This situation shows that Africa has an important place in Russia’s economy. In addition, the relations between Russia and Africa are developing in terms of defense. Because in 2015 and after, military cooperation agreements with more than 20 countries; Arms agreements were signed with Sudan, Mali, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria in 2017 and 2018.

Another economic situation is the issue of some minerals and mines. Russia takes care to advance its relations with African countries in order to reach mines and minerals such as bauxite, manganese, and chromium, which are necessary for its industry. Some companies belonging to the Russian state mine bauxite in Guinea and make agreements to extract diamonds from Angola.[10] Russian energy company Lukoil is developing projects in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana. Russia also provides nuclear energy technology services for several African countries, including the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Egypt, financed by a $ 25 billion loan.[11]

The trade volume between Russia and Africa has increased to 20 billion dollars as of 2018.[12] Therefore, Russia has reached almost the same level with Turkey and Brazil. However, it seems difficult for Europe to reach China’s level with its big partners (especially France). The reason for this is that it is not as advanced as these countries in production. The most important points in Russia’s exports are oil, gas, and weapons. It is not at the level of China, France, USA in food, textile, and household appliances. However, considering the African context, 20 billion dollars volume corresponds to a very good level. Entering an African-specific trade competition with countries such as the USA, China, India, and France is very challenging for Russia. For this reason, it can be said that Russia faces failures on its return to Africa.

Moreover, it can be said that Russia’s presence in the continent is unstable. Nearly 80 percent of Russia’s trade with Africa consists of North African countries. In this respect, it is seen that Russia does not have an economic policy that covers Africa or at least is distributed evenly. Although the Moscow administration tries to develop its trade with Sub-Saharan African countries, it will be understood as a result of the statistical analysis that it has not achieved much success in this regard.

Although Russia’s policy towards Africa is generally economic, there is also a search for influence. Taking advantage of its Soviet past on the continent, the Kremlin is trying to accelerate its return and presents itself as an alternative to the West as before. Moscow, which wants to increase its influence on Africa, uses many channels, including the media, to make its voice heard in Africa. Using cultural and academic cooperation programs in particular, Russia has doubled the number of African students studying at universities in its country since 2010. In addition, the Russian media called RT and Sputnik, which broadcast in Africa, are trying to gain recognition of Russia and increase its influence, while at the same time making a propaganda against the West. In doing so, it uses concepts such as racism, colonialism and the struggle against exploitation.

The African continent is seen by all major countries as a market to be conquered, so to speak. For this reason, countries such as China, USA, France, India, and Japan are trying to gain a place in the African market. Russia, which currently has a presence in countries such as Congo, Republic, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Angola, Namibia, will not give up its interests and policies in Sub-Saharan Africa, but will continue to work to find itself in the region.


[1] “Rodolphe Chollat-Namy, Relations Russie-Afrique: un « grand retour »?”, Major-Prepa, https://major-prepa.com/geopolitique/relations-russie-afrique-grand-retour/, (Date of Access: 01.05.2021).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Poline Tchoubar, “La nouvelle stratégie russe en Afrique subsaharienne : nouveaux moyens et nouveaux acteurs”, Fondation pour La Recherche Strategique, https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/notes/nouvelle-strategie-russe-afrique-subsaharienne-nouveaux-moyens-nouveaux-acteurs-2019, (Date of Access : 02.05.2021).

[4] “Medvedev’in 2009 Afreximbank Toplantısı Konuşmasından”, Conférence économique “Russie-Afrique”, Russian Government Website, government.ru/news/37113/, (Date of Access: 04.05.2021).

[5] “Russia obtains ease on C. Africa arms embargo at UN Security Council”, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/20200131-russia-obtains-ease-on-c-africa-arms-embargo-at-un-security-council, (Date of Access: 04.05.2021).

[6] Arnaud Jouve, “Russie : quelle stratégie en Afrique subsaharienne?”, RFI, https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20201121-russie-quelle-stratégie-en-afrique-subsaharienne, (Date of Access: 05.05.2021).

[7] “Interview to TASS News Agency”, Russian Presidential Website, en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/61858, (Date of Access: 07.05.2021).

[8] “Russia in Africa: What’s behind Moscow’s push into the continent?”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45035889, (Date of Access: 08.05.2021).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Trade revenue between Russia and African countries from 2013 to 2019”, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1063423/russia-and-african-countries-trade-volume/, (Date of Access: 08.05.2021).

Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN
Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünde lisans eğitimi alan Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN, aynı süreçte çift ana dal programı kapsamında üniversitenin Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi’nde yer alan Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde de eğitim görmüştür. 2017 yılında lisans mezuniyetini tamamladıktan sonra Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde yüksek lisans programına başlayan Çalışkan, bu programı 2020 yılında başarı ile tamamlamıştır. 2018 yılında ise çift ana dal programı kapsamında eğitim gördüğü Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı (MEB) bursu kapsamında 2017 yılı YLSY programını kazanarak halen Fransa’da dil eğitimi alan Göktuğ Çalışkan aynı zamanda Erciyes Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi son sınıf öğrencisidir. YLSY programı kapsamında Fas'ta Uluslararası Rabat Üniversitesinde Yönetişim ve Uluslararası İstihbarat alanında 2. yüksek lisansını yapmakta olan Çalışkan, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası Ilişkiler bölümünde doktorasına başlamıştır. Iyi derecede İngilizce ve Fransızca bilmektedir.