Summit showcases growing clout

23 October 2019 | Economics

Russia is not the Soviet Union. It lacks the resources, the ideology, and the appeal of its predecessor. - Paul Stronski, Senior fellow: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thibaut Marchand - President Vladimir Putin has called the first ever summit with dozens of African leaders "unprecedented" as Sochi prepared to host over 3 000 business representatives and other delegates.

Putin contrasted Russia's approach to cooperation with Africa to what he called the West's desire to "pressure, frighten and blackmail" African leaders in order to "reap superprofits".

Russia is "preparing and carrying out investment projects worth billions of US dollars" in Africa, Putin said in an interview with TASS news agency.

Moscow was a crucial player on the continent in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders.

But Moscow's ties with Africa declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and in recent years China has emerged as a top foreign power on the continent, forcing Russia to play catch-up.

Borrowing from China

In many ways the Kremlin is borrowing from China's playbook.

To expand its influence, Beijing in 2000 launched the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and has poured tens of billions of US dollars into the continent.

Russia cannot match China's economic might but, like Beijing, it is prepared to support African leaders with controversial rights records in exchange for access to the continent's riches.

The leaders of former Soviet client states such as Angola and Ethiopia will be at the summit as well as representatives of countries where Moscow's engagement has been traditionally low, like Nigeria and Ghana.

Home ground

Putin, who has been in power for the past 20 years, has preferred to host African leaders at home.

The only country in Sub-Saharan Africa Putin has been to as president is South Africa, which he has visited three times since 2006.

Analysts say Russia will not be able to compete with China and the West in Africa any time soon.

"Russia is not the Soviet Union. It lacks the resources, the ideology, and the appeal of its predecessor," said Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

At the same time Russia should not be dismissed as a minor player, Stronski, a former US State Department analyst, said in a report this month.

"Moscow boasts an agile and skilled diplomatic establishment and lacks ethical constraints in pursuit of its objectives." –Nampa/AFP

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