Russia has greatly strengthened its presence in Africa over the past few years. It has signed new agreements with several countries there, including on cooperation in the field of military technology, security and counterterrorism.
On the positive side, this has reinforced Russia’s traditionally friendly ties with its African partners. At the same time, this is bound to get other international players on the continent worried and in particular the western countries that used to have colonies in Africa.
Russia has indicated its interest in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), an old friend and partner on the continent. Russia’s withdrawal from Africa in the early 1990s was a strategic blunder, which the Russian authorities have become fully aware of. Now is the time to revitalize and rebuild the old ties.
When Denis Sassou Nguesso regained power in the Republic of Congo in 1997, he set out on a path towards restoring multifaceted cooperation with Russia in all spheres. This goal was attained through top level talks in 2012.
The Republic of Congo is a key power in Central Africa, and Brazzaville is often referred to as the capital of African diplomacy. Russia, which has been working to implement new initiatives in this region, needs the political support of an important partner such as the Republic of Congo.
In May 2019, President Denis Sassou Nguesso made an official visit to Moscow. Russia and the Republic of Congo signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and several other agreements.
Russia’s policy towards Africa can be described as unique. At the very least, it differs dramatically from the policy of China or that of the United States. Seeking to develop truly friendly relations with African countries, Russia makes proposals that are based on its partners’ interests who share such values as state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of others. Russia has never had colonies in Africa, and the Soviet Union worked energetically towards the continent’s decolonization. This humanitarian approach to mutually beneficial cooperation with African countries forms the basis of Russia’s policy.
Russia has fewer financial and economic opportunities for implementing its policy on the continent compared to that of China. At the same time, unlike the United States, Moscow is not trying to create a network of military bases or strongholds there. Russia does not advance preliminary political conditions for its support and cooperation with its African partners, unlike the western countries, which often make their assistance and cooperation contingent on the promotion of democracy as well as liberal and market values without due regard for African considerations.
Russia can also share its technology and know-how with African countries, if they want it, including in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, healthcare (Russian researchers have recently presented a unique vaccine at an international conference on Ebola vaccinations held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Russian vaccine greatly differs from the existing western analogues when it comes to safety, the absence of any adverse side effects, easy storage, transportation and use, as well as – the most important feature – an effective immune response to the deadly virus.
Russia has the same right as any other international player to develop relations with its African partners. Unfortunately, not all western countries think the same way though, which is why they are concerned about Russia’s growing cooperation with African countries. But Russia is not trying to rival, let alone clash with anyone in Africa. This is not and never will be part of Russia’s policy.
On the contrary, Moscow would be delighted to undertake African projects together with other countries, provided there is some practical interest for this and also goodwill.
Besides, African countries are promoting a multidirectional policy, trying to develop relations with many countries rather than just with one country, even if it is its former parent state. This makes a foreign policy better balanced and offers a wide choice of foreign policy opportunities.
Africa is a continent spearheaded into the future. Its external partners can easily put their resources and technology to good use in Africa, which has sufficient territory of opportunities for all the existing and potential partners.
The first Russia-Africa Summit, which is scheduled to be held in Sochi in October 2019, will demonstrate Russia’s resolve to strengthen ties with African countries. In fact, it should have been held long ago, because Africa’s other partners, including the EU, China, India and Japan, hold such summit meetings on a regular basis to advance their interests in Africa. Russia’s first Africa summit meeting, which should become a regular event, is a huge step in the right direction. It will demonstrate the priorities of Russia’s African policy to the international community. More importantly, the summit will help Russia strengthen its ties with its African partners and friends by highlighting its interest in cooperation with them.