The first annual Political Consultations within the scope of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum—a discussion format established following last year’s (October 23–24, 2019) inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi—took place on July 8, 2020. Held via videoconference, the meeting assembled Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his counterparts from the African Union “Troika” member states: Naledi Pandor, of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), Egypt’s Sameh Shoukri, and Marie Tumba Nzeza, the top diplomat of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Roscongress.org, July 8). The virtual foreign ministerial resulted in a nine-point Joint Statement and an agreement to hold the next Russia-Africa Summit in 2022, hosted on the African continent (RIA Novosti, July 8).
The main takeaways from last month’s Political Consultations fall into three main categories:
First, the sides discussed the progressive institutionalization of the partnership, reflected in the emergence of new platforms for cooperation between Russia and its African counterparts. One notable new entity is the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (established in May 2020), which is currently headed by the deputy director of African affairs at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Oleg Ozerov (TASS, May 19). The main functions of the Secretariat include coordination of cooperation between major Russian and African organizations/groupings, political-diplomatic accommodation of Russian economic projects in Africa as well as preparing agendas for future Russia-Africa summits. Another important new platform is the Association of Economic Cooperation with African Countries, which includes such Russian corporate giants as Rosatom, Alrosa, CJSC Transmashholding, Gazprombank, as well as the science/technology development project Innopraktika (headed by President Vladimir Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova) (Economy.gov.ru, accessed July 29). The advent of these platforms showcases two important trends. On the one hand, Russia will not rely on private initiatives—the state will determine the pace and scope of cooperation. And on the other hand, the “African vector” of Russian foreign (geo)economic policy on the continent is to be managed by the MFA as the key “guiding and coordination agency” (Russiancouncil.ru, July 9).
The second major topic for the Russian and African foreign ministers on July 8 was the expansion of economic ties. As noted by Lavrov, “Russia and Africa have historically been linked by friendly relations, intensive political dialogue, [and] well-developed commercial and investment ties […] we have also discussed the energy needs of African countries. These needs are rapidly growing, given the rapid pace of the regional development […] we talked about measures to additionally boost Africans’ energy security, including the role of Russia in the realms of hydrocarbons and, especially, nuclear power” (RIA Novosti, July 8). Importantly, from the Russian side, the online meeting was attended by Deputy Minister of Economic Development Alexey Gruzdev, who identified several strategic areas of economic cooperation with African countries, where Russia should become an important provider of services, including:
- Russia’s participation in the modernization of African industrial/manufacturing capabilities as well as energy and transportation infrastructure;
- Food security (an area of strategic concern for the majority of African countries); and
- The development of the local healthcare system and drug/medical supplies.
Gruzdev further noted that Russia should concentrate on “complex projects in Africa that will include the delivery of services/goods, post-consumption services, as well as training and preparation of experts/specialists and, potentially, the transfer of technologies and partial localization [of production]” (Ruscable.ru, July 9). When it comes to Russian businesses’ economic engagement in Africa, it is worth noting the firms Alrosa (operates in Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe), Lukoil (has projects, in Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo), Rosatom (projects in Egypt and Nigeria), PAO S. P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (has ties in Angola), Rosneft (Egypt), and Renova (projects in the RSA, Gabon and Mozambique) (Kommersant, October 23, 2019).
The third portion of the consultations focused on the shared political agenda. On the one hand, it appears that Russia plans—akin to Soviet practices—are to use Africa as a platform for the developing of anti-American/Western sentiments. In his statement, Lavrov referred to “neo-colonialism” and “the United States diminishing international institutions”—themes repeatedly (and increasingly) revived by the Russian side. Specifically, he accused the US of thwarting the peace settlement process in Libya by rejecting various candidates to the position of the United Nation’s special representative for political affairs in Libya. Lavrov asserted that the fact that “an American citizen, Stephanie Williams, who is trying to solve tasks unknown to us, occupies this position” exemplifies “the US trying to isolate [UN] Secretary General António Guterres” (Russiancouncil.ru, July 9).
At the same time, the head of the Russian MFA pointed to the fact that “the problems of colonialism are not fully extinguished.” He tacitly accused the US and some of its European allies (primarily, the three Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine; but France as well) of purportedly “trying to rewrite the history of the Second World War,” while, “at the same time, trying to forget the consequences brought to the African continent by the era of colonialism…” Lavrov added, “Currently, some of our Western colleagues who have had this kind of historical past related to the African continent are choosing to forget it and to ignore the true roots of current African problems. We think that that period must not be forgotten, [and] neo-colonial practices must not be ignored either.” Crucially, Lavrov stated that the de-colonization process in Africa cannot be considered complete until Mauritius can assert its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, Madagascar over the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, and the Comoros over Mayotte Island, which “remains under French jurisdiction despite numerous UN resolutions” (Russiancouncil.ru, July 9).
Another point of criticism directed by Lavrov against the West regarded the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, he told the AU “Troika” foreign ministers, “[S]ome of our colleagues—instead of uniting in the fight against the common threat—are pursuing their narrow agendas […] such as attempts at regime change and interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries…” He continued, “[T]his leads to breaking international law based on the principles of the UN” (RIA Novosti, July 8).
The July 8 Russia-Africa Cooperation Forum consultations additionally underscored one crucial evolution in Moscow’s approach toward the continent. The inter-personal and semi-official ties that dominated Russian policies in (especially Sub-Saharan) Africa—primarily embodied by Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin’s special representative for the Middle East and Africa—are gradually being replaced by a more structured approach. Increasingly, formal institutions are occupying a more prominent place in Russian-African ties.