Russia-Africa Summit: Sergei Lavrov conducts assessment tour

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Behind lofty summit declarations, various bilateral agreements and thousands of unfulfilled commitments from a decade ago, Russia has piled on due to “special military operations” that began in late February in Ukraine. It has achieved little these few years after the symbolic summit held in 2019. With preparations for the next summit of African leaders, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to go on two African tours during the first quarter of 2023.

In the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and against the background of current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made an instant trip to four African countries from July 24 to 28 of this year. The four African countries on that travel agenda: they are Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.

In January-February 2023, Lavrov will first focus on North Africa. Why is the Maghreb a strategic region for Russia? It is true that despite the appearance of competition between Europe and the United States, between Russia and China, as well as with the Gulf States, Russia has intensified its relations in order to increase its influence in the Maghreb.

It is worth noting that Egypt already has important strategic and economic ties with Russia. With Egypt’s geographic location, Lavrov’s frequent visits there have some unspoken implications. The trip last July, for example, had the specific objective of explaining the prospects for Russia’s actions in neighboring Ukraine in order to frame its geostrategic position in the region and request the support of the entire Arab world. It was after the official visit of US President Joe Biden to the Middle East. Biden visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.

Reports from the Russian Foreign Ministry this week indicated that Lavrov plans to make two “coordinated working visits” with the first trip to focus on the Arabic-speaking region of North Africa popularly known as the Maghreb. For several decades, the Maghreb region has been a region of multifaceted conflict, indeed one of the most volatile geopolitical borders, including Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This vast area inhabited by some 120 million people, 80 percent of them in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco, is landlocked between the vast Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert.

Historically, Russia has had long-standing good political relations not only in the north but also with sub-Saharan Africa to southern Africa since Soviet times, providing tremendous support to liberation movements that culminated in decolonization and ultimately instance, the rise of economies. in Africa. The continent is rife with rivalry and competition, which attracts foreign players, especially at this time when a new world order is emerging.

According to official reports, Russia is interested in expanding multifaceted cooperation and making feverish attempts at a collaborative mechanism to improve their relations. It seeks to work closely in the development of a new architecture necessary to participate in development projects and promote infrastructure, trade and other viable economic ties. It held the first Russia-Africa summit three years ago, signed many bilateral agreements and issued an impressive joint statement as a road map for future directions.

On the agenda of the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in Saint Petersburg, there are issues related to the construction of a new global architecture in the context of strengthening multipolarity and international security, food and energy security, health and humanitarian cooperation. , education, science and culture.

With a large number of sanctions imposed on Russia, it becomes in the interest of both Russia and Africa to find alternative ways of collaboration (between Russia and Africa) that do not rely on Western currencies or sanctions policy. Of course, the illegal sanctions imposed on Russia continue to have a negative impact on foreign economic relations, requiring an urgent reconfiguration of strategies to foster greater cooperation.

Reports always point out that Africa is one of the most important and fastest growing regions for Russian producers. Moscow understands the importance of engaging and achieving sustainable development there. For example, Russia faces the challenge of promoting the creation of a reliable infrastructure for the production and transportation of African energy products and the development of internal markets. It faces the challenge of admirably consolidating its economic influence on the continent.

However, in November 2021, a policy paper titled “Situation Analytical Report” released at the TASS news agency premises was highly critical of Russia’s current policy towards Africa. While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the proportion of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are few definitive results from such meetings, according to that authoritative report researched and produced by 25 Russian political experts led by Professor Sergey Karaganov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy.

The report noted the lack of coordination between various state and parastatal institutions working with Africa. Over the past three decades, Russia has played a very small role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture, and industry. Many bilateral agreements at the highest political level have not yet been implemented. Much larger issues have received little attention since the first summit of African leaders was held in Sochi.

Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community pays little attention to the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and makes little effort to take advantage of it, providing a unique and valuable platform for companies to access an integrated African market for more than 1.3 billion people.

However, Russia brings little to the continent, especially in economic sectors that are in dire need of investment. An undeniable fact is that many external actors have also had long-term relationships and continue to strengthen political, economic, and social ties on the continent.

Of course, Russia aims to restore and regain some of its Soviet-era influence, but it has trouble planning and tackling its set tasks and lacks confidence in meeting its political goals. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would be a wishful dream to consider a multifaceted partnership with Africa.

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