Russia positions for African influence

Kremlin offers arms, military services deals in exchange for diplomatic support and mineral extraction

International commentators have noted a strong Russian presence in African diplomacy this year with offers of arms and military assistance. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Russia’s aggressive approach to politically befriending a slew of African nations for diplomatic support and mineral extraction deals has caught some political commentators off-guard.

Throughout this year the Kremlin has offered arms and military service deals to countries throughout the continent, the Guardian reports.

According to the news outlet, Russian officials have been a noted force across African capitals since the start of 2018. Observers report that the officials have been offering arms and military service deals – often with few conditions attached – in exchange for diplomatic support and approval to explore mineral extraction.

The most recent deal was struck between Russia and Eritrea earlier this month. That agreement for a logistics base would give Moscow access to the Red Sea.

Renewed scrutiny of Russia’s movements in Africa occurred in July after three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR). As published by Russia Reports, renowned war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were shot and killed near the town of Sibut, 300 kilometers north of the capital Bangui.

The trio had been in CAR as freelancers looking into reports fighters from a Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, were operating in the country.

An international official closely observing events in the country told the Guardian that the official narrative was that Russia and CAR shared a long-standing cooperation.

“But honestly if anyone had said last autumn that this was going to happen and that there would soon be so many Russian people on the ground, no one would have believed it,” the source said.

Another observer noted it had been reported in January that Russians were training the African nation’s presidential security forces. “It went from rumours on social media to a sizeable Russian presence at an incredible speed,” the source said.

There are several proposed reasons for Russia’s renewed interest in the African continent. The first being Russia’s isolation from the United States and the European Union – more allies in Africa translates into more votes at the UN general assembly. The second meanwhile is to foster relationships which mix business, diplomacy and arms sales interests.

International Crisis Group Central Africa project director Thierry Vircoulon said Russia’s push for African influence started in September of last year when CAR officials visited Sochi and made their first arms deal.

“The relationship has expanded since that time with the compensation for Russian companies being access to the country’s minerals in exchange for military services,” he said.

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