Russia in Africa: A new arena for geopolitical competition

08-11-2019

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long been the continent's leading supplier of weapons, and it has military cooperation deals with nearly two dozen African countries. Among other things, these provide for the presence of military trainers and advisors, and a small but growing number of Russian 'boots on the ground', many of them coming from shadowy private military companies closely linked to Putin's entourage. Russia's military presence in countries such as the Central African Republic often goes hand-in-hand with commercial interests. Overall, Russian trade and investment in the continent is quite small, except in the strategic energy and mining sectors: oil, gas, diamonds, gold, aluminium and nickel are among the African minerals extracted by Russian companies. Russia's African toolkit also includes covert political influence operations – again, involving shady Kremlin-linked organisations, soft power (building on Soviet-era links and a growing media presence), and increasingly close diplomatic ties. On the other hand, Russian development and humanitarian aid to the continent is minimal. While Russia's influence in Africa is growing, it remains a comparatively marginal player in most of the continent, except in a few key countries and economic sectors. Its overall objective appears to be geopolitical competition with other more established players, rather than disinterested help for African partners. Its role is therefore viewed with concern by the EU institutions and Member States.

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long been the continent's leading supplier of weapons, and it has military cooperation deals with nearly two dozen African countries. Among other things, these provide for the presence of military trainers and advisors, and a small but growing number of Russian 'boots on the ground', many of them coming from shadowy private military companies closely linked to Putin's entourage. Russia's military presence in countries such as the Central African Republic often goes hand-in-hand with commercial interests. Overall, Russian trade and investment in the continent is quite small, except in the strategic energy and mining sectors: oil, gas, diamonds, gold, aluminium and nickel are among the African minerals extracted by Russian companies. Russia's African toolkit also includes covert political influence operations – again, involving shady Kremlin-linked organisations, soft power (building on Soviet-era links and a growing media presence), and increasingly close diplomatic ties. On the other hand, Russian development and humanitarian aid to the continent is minimal. While Russia's influence in Africa is growing, it remains a comparatively marginal player in most of the continent, except in a few key countries and economic sectors. Its overall objective appears to be geopolitical competition with other more established players, rather than disinterested help for African partners. Its role is therefore viewed with concern by the EU institutions and Member States.