Norms and Values
Is Russia Returning to Africa?

Given that the adoption of the decisions of the Second Russia-Africa Summit was accompanied by the development of a mechanism for their implementation, and in light of the high professional level of the leaders and employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry who were called upon to coordinate it, there is every reason to believe that these decisions will be implemented, and that Russia’s cooperation with African countries in many areas will yield new prospects, writes Vladimir Shubin.

“Russia is returning to Africa” — this phrase is usually used by those who talk about our country’s activities on this continent. But this phrase is incorrect: Russia, the heir of the Soviet Union, never left Africa; for example, although several Russian embassies and consulates were closed in the early 1990s, more than 30 Russian diplomatic missions continued to operate in African countries. However, things were worse in terms of economic and humanitarian ties: almost all trade missions and most cultural centres were closed.

The abandonment of unilateral orientation towards the West in Russian foreign policy is usually attributed to the early 2000s. But signs of it appeared as early as 1996, when Evgeny Primakov took the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, and this return became obvious after his legendary “U-turn over the Atlantic”, when he ordered his plane to return to Moscow after the beginning of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Then, in 2007, Vladimir Putin gave his famous speech at the Munich conference, where he stated that “for the modern world, the unipolar model is not only unacceptable, but also completely impossible.”

Almost simultaneously, in the early 21st century, the “pivot to the East” began to emerge in Russia’s foreign policy strategy. While sometimes it is seen as intensification of relations with the Afro-Asian world as a whole, it primarily meant cooperation with Asian countries, especially China. Only much later did an understanding arise of the need to intensify relations with the countries of Africa; not only Northern Africa, which Russia previously did not ignore, but also sub-Saharan Africa. Even the term “Pivot to the South” was coined, although it was not very common.

A concrete expression of this understanding was the statement Vladimir Putin made in Johannesburg during the BRICS summit in 2018 on holding the Russia-Africa summit. This summit meeting, held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the Economic Forum that was part of it, were undoubtedly successful. But the implementation of the plans was largely hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began literally two or three months after the meeting in Sochi. This was followed by a sharp deterioration in international diplomacy, caused by the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the West against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine. Developments in the African countries themselves had an impact, too; for example, the list of cities where the second Russian-African summit could take place included Addis Ababa, but an armed conflict broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray province.

Conflict of Ideas and Identities
Report: Russia’s Return to Africa: Strategy and Prospects
Oleg Barabanov, Vadim Balytnikov, Andrei Yemelyanov, Dmitry Poletaev, Igor Sid, Nathalia Zaiser
The year of 2019 is the Year of Africa in Russia. The first Russia–Africa Summit, held in October 2019, marked a turning point in Russia’s new strategy to return to Africa and promote major initiatives to facilitate development on this continent.

As a result of all of this, the second summit took place not in Africa, as planned, but in St. Petersburg, and not three years after Sochi, but on July 27-28, 2023. Justifiably, the forum addressed not only economic issues, but also humanitarian ones.

The recent developments convincingly showed the importance of all-round good relations with Africa for Russia. Suffice to say, not a single African country imposed sanctions against Russia, and despite pressure and threats from the West, 48 countries were represented at the second summit, including 27 at the level of presidents or the second-highest ranking leader. The attendance figures for the Summit and the Economic and Humanitarian Forum are quite impressive: about 5,000 participants and media officials attended, including more than 1,850 representatives of official delegations. There were 457 speakers and 161 concluded agreements.

At the same time, the Media Forum, the Congress of University Rectors, sessions of the Supreme Audit Institutions of Russia and African countries, sessions of the Creative Business Forum and the Healthy Society Forum were also held. Before the summit, on July 25, a conference of the Valdai Discussion Club was held, titled “Russia and African Countries: Established Traditions of Interaction and Prospects for Cooperation in a New World”. However, in order for the thoughts and proposals expressed at such conferences to become available to those summits and forums in the future, it is advisable to hold them not the day before, but several weeks earlier.

On July 28, 2023, the main Declaration of the Second Russia-Africa Summit was adopted, as well as three declarations on important issues of international development: on preventing an arms race in outer space; on cooperation in the field of ensuring international information security, and on strengthening cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The preamble to the main declaration of the Summit states that it is based “on historically established and time-tested friendly ties between the Russian Federation and African states, mutual respect and trust, and traditions of joint struggle for the eradication of colonialism and the establishment of independence of African states.” In this context, it is appropriate to quote the words of Vladimir Putin, who, answering a question from journalists after the summit, said: “At some point in Soviet times, I remember this well, in our society (author’s note: more precisely, in part of society) there was an opinion that we were spending money in vain. Well, why are we spending money on Africa? Where is this Africa? We have many problems of our own. And now, when I communicate with our friends from Africa, I think with gratitude about those people who pursued such a friendly policy in Africa. They created a powerful foundation of strength, friendly relations with African countries, which... I don’t know if they themselves were counting on such a result or not (author’s note: I can’t speak for all my comrades, but those with whom I worked to strengthen ties between the Soviet Union and African countries for three decades, were confident). And this, of course, was done then, and our attempts to work in Africa today are being made in the interests, first of all, of Russia.”

Another provision in the preamble deserves special attention: opposition to aggressive nationalism, neo-Nazism and neo-fascism, Afrophobia, Russophobia, and all forms of racism.

This declaration further contains 74 points suggesting the development of cooperation in various fields: political and legal, trade and economic, environmental and climate protection, scientific and technological, humanitarian, cultural, sports, youth and information cooperation and cooperation in the field of education and health care. It is fundamentally important, however, that it not only outlines specific proposals for cooperation in these areas, but also develops a partnership mechanism.

The Russia-Africa Partnership Forum was named the system-forming element of multilateral Russian-African cooperation that implements the decisions of the summit. In addition to the existing formats of dialogue with the current, previous and future chairs of the African Union, it is planned to hold annual political consultations between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Chair of the African Union Commission, as well as between the ministers of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation, African states and African Union Commission.

Moreover, the creation of a permanent Russian-African dialogue mechanism at the highest level is being initiated, which will operate within the framework of the Strategy for the Development of Multilateral Partnerships of the African Union, to coordinate efforts and solve problems in various areas. Unfortunately, the declaration does not indicate a time frame for the formation of such a mechanism.

Along with the aforementioned declaration, the Action Plan of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum for 2023–2026 was published on the same day, expanding and complementing its provisions. This Plan defines in detail (and maybe too much detail — the Plan has 181 points!) the priorities and measures aimed at realising the potential of the Russian-African partnership in areas of mutual interest. Again, as when adopting the summit declarations, its participants did not limit themselves to listing them, but also determined the mechanism for implementing the Plan.

It is indicated that the Plan is carried out by relevant ministries, departments, organisations and structures, while its progress is considered within the framework of the existing (author’s note: and those to be created) mechanisms of the Russia-Africa dialogue partnership. At the same time, separate bilateral and multilateral roadmaps, programmes and projects are being developed and implemented; the implementation of the provisions of the Action Plan will be coordinated by the secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

Given that the adoption of the decisions of the Second Summit was accompanied by the development of a mechanism for their implementation, and in light of the high professional level of the leaders and employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry who were called upon to coordinate it, there is every reason to believe that these decisions will be implemented, and that Russia’s cooperation with African countries in many areas will yield new prospects.

Russia-Africa: Two Halves of the Planet’s Heart
Is it possible to conduct a political dialogue amid the wholesale reformatting of the global space? What is a natural partnership? How are Russia-Africa economic relations progressing? What is the fireproof safety net in Russia-Africa relations? Is it possible to transform the Soviet legacy into real policies? These issues were discussed by the participants in the Valdai Club Russia-Africa Conference held in St Petersburg on July 25, on the eve of the second Russia-Africa Summit.
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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.