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Sochi summit signals Russia's return to Africa

China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-18 09:23

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin will host dozens of African leaders next week as the country seeks to foster its ties with the continent.

The heads of state from 35 African countries are expected for the first Africa-Russia Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi during Oct 23-24.

"Russia has always been present in Africa. This is a very important continent," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the summit.

"Russia has things to offer in terms of mutually beneficial cooperation to African countries."

Though never a colonial power in Africa, Russia was a crucial player on the continent in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders.

Remnants of that influence remain, from the Kalashnikov rifle on the flag of Mozambique to the Angolan flag with its hammer-and-sickle-style gear and machete.

Egyptian President and African Union chairman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will co-chair the summit.

"This forum signals Russia's decisive pivot toward Africa," said Yevgeny Korendyasov, an expert at Moscow's Institute for African Studies and former ambassador in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Russian companies have invested in oil and gas in Egypt and Nigeria, in diamonds in Angola and in metals in Guinea and South Africa.

Moscow has also used a combination of arms exports, security expertise and support for local governments to deepen its political and economic presence.

"With varying degrees of success, Moscow is attempting to mobilize its Cold War-era connections and convert its old ideological links into business," said Arnaud Dubien, the head of the Franco-Russian Observatory.

The Central African Republic - whose President Faustin-Archange Touadera will also attend the summit - has been one of the most prominent examples.

Moscow has delivered weapons along with contractors to train soldiers in the former French colony. Russia has struck a series of military agreements with other African countries and thousands of private Russian security contractors.

Modest way

Still, analysts say it's too soon to be speaking of a major Russian presence across the continent.

"There is a real difference between the masterfully promoted narrative and the reality," French geopolitical analyst Arnaud Kalika said.

In a research paper for the French Institute of International Relations, Kalika said Russia's return to Africa was more modest than Moscow would want the world to believe.

"Russia needs Africa now more than Africa needs Russia," Kalika said.

Agence France-presse

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