But far from being frightened, the leaders of many African countries are welcoming Moscow with open arms, so much so that representatives of 43 of Africa’s U.N. member states attended a summit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin this past week.
Russia claims some $12.5 billion in new deals were signed off at the summit, with the likes of arms, minerals, nuclear power and even mercenaries all up for grabs.
This is a push that’s got many in Washington worried.
Nile Gardiner of the Washington, D.C. think-tank the Heritage Foundation told Fox News: “The United States should be hugely concerned about growing Russian influence in Africa.
“Moscow’s goals are diametrically opposed to those of Washington. American leadership in Africa matters and the Trump Administration must make every effort to ensure that the U.S. voice is heard on the African continent, challenging the rising presence of both Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China.”
Russia appears, another analyst says, to be making deals while the U.S. sleeps on the job. President Trump has yet to visit the African continent, but Putin has. Russia hosted this past week’s massive jamboree in the resort city of Sochi. The U.S. has only invited a few African leaders for State visits. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has already made two major trips to Africa this year. There’s been no corresponding visit recently by a high-level member of the Trump administration.
Whilst the U.S. has a respectable $60 billion annual trade figure with Africa, in the past five years Russia has more than doubled its sales here to $20 billion. And it's rising rapidly. And Russia is Africa’s biggest arms supplier.
Moscow pushes Russia’s so-called struggle credentials. Putin this past week said his country has “supported the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism and apartheid.”
And Russia doesn’t ask questions about a country’s human right record or governance, whereas the U.S. does when offering deals.
Almost 20 of Africa’s 54 U.N.-recognized countries have signed nuclear cooperation deals with Russia. Questions are being asked about whether countries like Ethiopia should be considering paying Russia colossal amounts to build a nuclear power plant, when comparatively rich South Africa nixed a deal with Moscow, because of fears it could collapse the country’s economy.
Egypt, despite economic concerns, has contracted Russia’s nuclear company Rosatom to build a 4,800MW nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean coast.
Elsewhere, Russia is building a $30 million oil refinery in Uganda.
The Kremlin has its eyes on Mozambique’s huge natural gas reserves. Russia has canceled the country’s historical debt with Moscow but has also supplied military hardware, including helicopters, to help curb an Islamist insurgency which also has its eyes on the profits from the gas.
Moscow even has its own state-linked bank, the International Agency of Sovereign Development, set up this year, and is busy with $2.5 billion worth of deals with Niger, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Russia is also involved in a wide level of not-so-public military and political activities. Earlier this month a Russian military cargo plane, an Antonov, believed to be involved in gun-running, went down in that country killing several Russian “observers.” Some 22 Russians, said to be covertly assisting rebels in Libya, were also recently killed. A Russian citizen is officially a national security adviser to the president of the Central African Republic, and Russian mercenaries are reported to be fighting anti-government rebels in the country. Not much is known though – three journalists who went to investigate have been murdered.
Putin has also become embroiled in a feud between Egypt and Ethiopia, who are fighting over a project to dam the Nile river, which the former believes could threaten its water supply.
The Kremlin is into soft mind games, too, even trying to get into the heads of children in the Central African Republic, and persuade them that it’s OK if Russians fight the rebels there. To do so, a cartoon with a child’s voice shows the people of the CAR, represented by a lion, being beaten up by rebels, represented -- as in Disney’s “The Lion King” -- as loathsome hyenas. A big bear comes to the rescue, shown on a map coming from Russia, to scare the hyenas off … and everyone lives happily ever after.
But when it comes to military deals, the Russians are coldly blatant. And perhaps to show how they can offer support if necessary, just this past week, Moscow sent two strategic nuclear-capable Tupolev T-160 bomber aircraft , the Russian equivalent of the US B1, all the way non-stop to South Africa. Not quietly either – the local media were invited for a press junket to witness these frankly frightening aircraft touching down on African soil for the first time.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa believes Russia is not offering classic foreign aid, but rather “foreign direct investment.” Ramaphosa denied this week that African nations “are being led into a debt trap as they take up loans to fund a number of projects in their countries.”
He added it’s now a case of “partnership for mutual benefit, on development, trade and investment cooperation and integration.”
The U.S. is believed to be watching the cozying-up of Russia with South Africa. The two countries jointly launched a satellite that watches over the African continent, with military information obtained from it being shared between Moscow and Pretoria.
Dr. Stephen Blank, writing for Geopolitical Intelligence Services, said: “Russia is returning to Africa and using all of its instruments of power, including diplomacy, energy investments, and scholarships to Russian universities for African students.”