Date: 22 October 2019
Russia in Africa: Weapons, Mercenaries, Spin Doctors.
The Kremlin eyes the African continent as yet another arena of a massive clash with the West, as it did under the Cold War reality. But their competition has now been of a rather practical and economic nature, pushing ideologies somewhere to the margin. Also, Moscow has enjoyed the positive image it had retained in Africa back from the Soviet times.
- Russia’s expansion across the Dark Continent will be best exemplified by the first-ever Russia-Africa summit, set to take place in the resort town of Sochi in October 2019. It comes as the culmination of years of Moscow’s heated political and economic efforts to nurture ties with its African peers, and intends to give the green light to open a new chapter.
- Russia’s clout on African soil runs on many tracks, and its expansion is geared primarily towards hybrid activities. In Moscow’s offer for Africa are mercenaries, military equipment, mining investments, nuclear power plants, and railway connections. Russian military specialists help those politicians that show a pro-Russian attitude.
- Their activities, or those of mercenaries, serve the Kremlin’s political goals to the very same extent, by offering tangible financial benefits to these business circles that hold close links to Vladimir Putin. Africa is viewed as a prospective source of wealth for Russian oligarchs –– a source of minerals and an outlet for Russian-made military weapons. These investments should pay off, both economically and –– more importantly –– politically.
- Besides establishing a large group of Russian friends in Africa, it is no less vital to deploy Moscow’s military forces to the continent, albeit carefully. Russia’s fielding of its mercenaries and combat advisors to the Dark Continent may give rise to building up its military presence. Moscow holds interest in creating military facilities in strategically important areas, also throughout the Horn of Africa.
- Inking fresh batches of military agreement deals in an effort to potentially boost Moscow’s capacity of establishing army facilities, or the issue related to economic affairs, runs the risk for Western countries, given Russia’s neutral stance on China. And the West is gradually losing both its impetus and interest in Africa. This paved the way for Russian expansion, enabling Moscow to fill the void left by the United States, as some time ago in Egypt.
“Russia regards Africa as an important and active participant in the emerging polycentric architecture of the world order and an ally in protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov back in November 2018. Shortly after, in December 2018, John Bolton, the then national security adviser, said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation that Russian and Chinese activities on African soil are detrimental to U.S. interests and those of the countries themselves (“threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for US investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests”). In 2015, Moscow staged a big comeback to the continent after a decades-long hiatus, setting its foot where the Soviet Union remained increasingly active in the Cold War era. This related both to the areas of security and economy, as exemplified by a massive surge in the value of Russian trade with African countries that rose from $3.4 billion in 2015 to $14.5 billion in 2016. Moscow’s growing involvement in African is, on the one hand, due to its urge for fresh alliance that emerged back in 2014 in the aftermath of a round of Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. But there are other, far more critical reasons for Vladimir Putin’s country’s ever-increasing appetite for a pivot to the Dark Continent.
Africa has become a giant battlefield in a fight between Russia in the West in what morphed into a new Cold War, a period of tensions with money having the advantage over ideological matters.
Russia is open for deepening ties with anyone who holds such an interest, with historical, ideology, or geopolitical matters being of little importance. The Kremlin’s push for new alliances allows it to simultaneously strengthen cooperation with two countries referred to as mutually hostile, like Algeria and Morocco. A comparable strategy is part of Russian policy within a single country too. In Libya, Moscow backs Haftar while nurturing friendly ties with the government Tripoli and, on the other hand, remaining committed, albeit unofficially, to offering help to a prominent son of the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Also, Russia has sent its mercenaries to the Central African Republic, who serve as a personal guard to the country’s president Faustin-Archange Touadéra while enjoying its role as a proxy to plot with Islamic rebel groups further in the country’s mainland. Moscow stands ready to launch talks and enter into cooperation with virtually anyone who meets a series of conditions, including allowing Moscow with full influence on regional policy so as to obstruct the importance of other powers. Russian military analysts say that Moscow should follow suit of France’s efforts in its former colonies, a model dubbed subsequently Françafrique (“French Africa”) that could provide the Kremlin with an opportunity to intervene on the side of its allies while combatting enemies and preventing their competitors from entering key countries.
COLD WAR 2.0. ON AFRICAN SOIL
What stands out as a leading factor behind ongoing African-Russian partnership is their long-standing alliance dating back to the Soviet era. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that some representatives of African political elites graduated from Moscow-based universities. It is not without significance that Russia has no intention to chide authoritarian-style governments in Africa for their noncompliance with human rights, nor does it push for passing adequate reforms. Africa, for its part, is seeking for an alternative to China and the West. It sees Russia as a reliable partner, also due to the lack of Moscow’s efforts to colonize the continent, and the Soviet Union backed anti-colonial movements in many African countries. Furthermore, unlike its immediate predecessor, present-day Russia has no ambition to persuade its African peers to follow its political and economic patterns. Moscow has mobilized a batch of soft power tools, chiefly by promoting cooperation in the area of education: scholarships in Russia and further developing its network of Russian Centers of Science and Culture that already operate in Egypt, Morocco, Zambia, the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.
Africa is an ever-growing potential customers market for military equipment and a continent that boasts vast mineral deposits.
Russia’s expansion on African soil builds up its position in the United Nations, a quarter of whose members are African countries. Vladimir Putin’s goal is to amplify the Russian zone of influence in different world regions as part of his efforts to reconstruct Russia’s status of a mighty state standing in stark contrast to its Western peers. The Kremlin is therefore playing up Europe’s and Washington’s declining interest in the Dark Continent, exemplified by the latter’s steadily diminished military presence in various countries across Africa. In this respect, the People’s Republic of China may emerge ultimately as a leading adversary, though it had in the past filled the void left by the Soviet Union. In Africa, China holds a way more decisive advantage over Russia, which stems from the economic superiority of the Middle Kingdom. China’s activity differs from Russia’s by being less military and more economically oriented. But even here, Russia can boast some small achievements in its rivalry with China. In the Central African Republic, Moscow managed to impede Chinese efforts to buy stakes at French Areva’s Bakouma uranium mine, thus preventing Beijing from restoring full control of the site.
Russia eyes Africa in terms of the field of confrontation with the West, especially if security issues are at stake. In Africa, Moscow finds it more convenient to sow chaos in a bid to harm the West, chiefly to such actions being both easier and cheaper than in Europe to be carried out. Russia’s resources are more modest that the Soviet Union’s, and the country itself is much weaker than the West compared to the time of the Cold War. This can involve sparking humanitarian catastrophes, which result in new refugee flows into Europe. The plan is to create new problems for Western governments, with Moscow thus eyeing a strong position of Libya, viewed as a key “transit country” for migrants heading to Europe.
Russia’s stepping into the Dark Continent is best exemplified by the Russia-Africa summit, scheduled to take place on October 23–24 in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Russia’s expansion on African soil builds up its position in the United Nations, a quarter of whose members are African countries.
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of African countries that struck military cooperation deals with Russia. In 2018 itself, it inked such agreements with Guinea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Madagascar, and the Central African Republic, while more may come at the Sochi gathering. For example, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hopes to sign a military technical cooperation deal with Russia in a bid to purchase a bulk of Russian-made helicopters, aircraft, and tanks. “This is to help the Lagos government crush Boko Haram,” Nigerian ambassador to Russia said on October 11. Step by step, Russia is surging as an alternative to Western countries. In 2014, when the United Kingdom and the United States were in no rush to respond to Nigeria’s request for help, Nigeria turned to Russia for counter-terrorism training for its special forces and bought military hardware to fight Boko Haram. So far Moscow has signed over 20 military cooperation deals with various countries across Africa: Tanzania, Eritrea, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Libya, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Several hundred peace-keepers from African countries have been trained in Russia since 2006.
Among African states that are closely cooperating with Russian in the area of security is the Central African Republic. A special department tasked with representing the Russian army was established as part of the Central African Defense Ministry. Financed by the Russian state, the body consists of five people. Under a deal signed during a Moscow visit of the President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou-Nguesso on May 23, 2019, Russia committed itself to send military specialists to the Republic of Congo who––as officially informed by the Russian side––will train Congolese soldiers and help to service Soviet-made munitions. Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that the contract in the first place concerned the maintenance and operation of Soviet-and Russian-made military hardware. The Congolese army has in its inventory artillery systems and helicopters. The recent agreement may serve as the first step to tighten arms cooperation between the two countries. It is unknown how many Russian troops will eventually be deployed to Congolese soil, nor is it sure that what has been officially stated will be the sole purpose of their stay in Africa, as exemplified by Russian military involvement in other African countries.
A group of Russian military experts arrived at Nacala airport, Nampula Province, in early September 2019, local analysts said. The Russia-Mozambique security agreements pave the way for the Russian military to train and advise their Mozambican peers. British newspaper The Times wrote a month later that “Russian mercenaries and military hardware have arrived in Mozambique to help the government fight jihadists.” These are Islamic fundamentalists who remain active in the country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado that holds gas fields, with Russia’s Rosneft having the ambition to unearth them. The group is reportedly composed of about 200 soldiers, including elite troops, three attack helicopters, and crew. The Kremlin has denied this. Some sources say that Russia has sent 160 elite Russian military men to the country with the ultimate goal of launching in the country a mobile military intelligence base and a permanent naval military facility. The latter variant appeared when Russian and Mozambican defense ministries inked a deal on tightening their bilateral cooperation on maritime activities in spring 2018, giving the green light for Russian-flagged naval vessels to dock at Mozambican ports.
With Moscow’s military partnership of various African nations often comes the matter of a potential Russian naval facility. Though in the Cold War era the Soviet Union had never had a permanent military base on the Dark Continent, it meddled militarily in some countries across Africa. Soviet warships used naval ports of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Guinea. At the time of the Angola civil war, Moscow offered support to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in a move that paved the Soviet army’s way for accessing a Luanda military base for over a quarter of a century. Under some of the recent deals, Moscow is entitled to use local airfields or naval facilities. In 2016, Russian media outlets reported that Moscow was negotiating with Egypt’s al-Sisi regime on terms of access to the Sidi-Barrani base. The idea of opening a military base in Sudan was discussed during President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to Moscow in late 2017.
An alternative to Sudan, if Russia seeks to strengthen its ability to sustain naval deployments in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean, could be Eritrea. In September 2018, an Eritrean delegation led by ForeignMinister Osman Saleh met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi. At the meeting, the parties signed an agreement which may see the establishment of a logistics center in the Eritrean port of Assab. Russia has also had contacts with the breakaway region of Somaliland. In exchange for creating an air and naval facility in the Djibouti-bordering town of Zeila, Russia would formally recognize the region’s independence from Somalia.  Once launched in Sudan and/or Eritrea, naval bases could build up Moscow’s intelligence services while interfering with the Red Sea shipping between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea. This raises a serious concern over U.S. shipping from and to the Persian Gulf. Located only 300 kilometers from Jeddah, a Russian base would be considered by Saudi Arabia as a threat to its security as well as to the protection of oil and gas supplies from the Persian Gulf to Europe. Another country that would not be satisfied with such a state of matters is China as it has been building its zone of influence in Africa for a long time. The Russian base would also weaken the position of Ethiopia, considered as a military power in that part of Africa. According to Sudan, the Ethiopians may constitute a counterbalance to the Egyptian-Eritrean alliance.
In some African nations, with particular regard to those being governed by authoritarian regimes, cooperation with Russia encompasses the spheres such as national security and special services.
TANKS, MERCENARIES, SPIN DOCTORS
The Russian Defense Ministry also invited many African leaders to its Army-2019 Forum, or Russia’s largest annual military exhibition, on June 25–30. At the Forum, Russia and Mali signed a military cooperation agreement. Sergei Shoigu also met with his Malian counterpart Gen. Ibrahim Dembele, pledging support for stabilization in Mali.
The Soviet Union was in the past a leading supplier of arms to African states. In the wake of a dramatic decline during the 1990s, the number of weapons exported increased again in the following decade. According to the Swedish think tank SIPRI, between 2012 and 2016 Russia had become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35 percent of arms exports to the region, way ahead of China (17 percent), the United States (9.6 percent), and France (6.9 percent). Exports of Russian-made weapons and military hardware to Africa amount currently to $4.6 billion annually, with a contract portfolio worth over $50 billion. The leading importers of Russian arms in Africa are Algeria (helicopters, tanks, submarines), Egypt (aircraft, air defence systems, helicopters), Angola (fighter jets, tanks, artillery systems, arms and ammunition), and Uganda (tanks, air defence systems), alongside Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, and Rwanda. In 2017, Russian arms trade with Africa doubled compared with 2012. In 2018, Russia concluded arms and military hardware trade deals with as many as 20 countries across Africa. The Russian arms trading monopoly Rosoboronexport accounts for a third of all weaponry supplies to the Dark Continent. In addition to arms exports and military trainings, the Russian Ministry of Defence is involved in the training of African military personnel, and also offers related opportunities at educational establishments in Russia. But what is of crucial importance is an off-the-record facet of Russia’s military and political partnership with African nations, especially those that remain profoundly destabilized, plunged into domestic conflicts, and waging wars with neighboring countries.
Hundreds of mercenaries linked to Russia have been fielded across Africa. Already a few years ago, the Russian RSB-Group company carried out an operation to demine an industrial facility in Libya on General Haftar’s request. Retired General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, has confirmed thata private military company Patriot is present in Burundi. Both Libya and Burundi have become a ground for Wagner Group mercenaries. They have been confirmed to operate in the Central African Republic and Sudan. They serve a dual role, as tools for securing Russian companies’ commercial interests while actually representing the Russian state in an effort to offer opportunities of playing a substantial role in domestic affairs of countries to where Russian mercenaries have been deployed. A leading figure is here Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman close to the Russian president. His steps in Africa resemble those in Syria that was flooded by hundreds of Wagner contractors in exchange for hydrocarbon mining licenses.
Between 2012 and 2016 Russia had become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35 percent of arms exports to the region, way ahead of China (17 percent), the United States (9.6 percent), and France (6.9 percent).
This is where Prigozhnin-affiliated people were fielded as hybrid warfare experts. They backed a candidacy of a politician that held close ties to the then leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their practical efforts rose Felix Tshisekedi to power in January 2019, paving Russia’s way for pursuing its interests on Congolese soil. Also, Russian specialists routinely look for offering information and policy-related support in countries across the Dark Continent. They use a social-media apparatus, also to promote Gaddafi’s son in Libya, and know-how to back government-owned media. Moscow is sending to Africa its spin doctors in a bid to keep African leaders in power, which is also Prigozhin’s activity, besides his private military company.
Russian independent information outlet Dozhd said on March 20, 2019, that a group of between 100 and 200 Russian political marketing experts might have been sent to take part in election campaigns throughout the Dark Continent. Some of them have allegedly been decorated with state awards for their efforts to nurture Russian interests in Africa, though their names were not found on any official ranking lists. A U.S.-based Bloomberg agency reported that Russian political marketing pundits had been deployed to at least ten African countries across the continent: Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Angola, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Madagascar, where Russian experts worked at the presidential campaign of 6 candidates out of all 35 politicians running for office. Bloomberg says that Prigozhin-linked entities provide their services in the areas such as protection, technology, and political support in exchange for being capable of extracting raw materials. Russian experts so far have taken part in as many as 20 electoral campaigns across the continent, an example of which was Zimbabwe’s 2018 polling that yet again rose President Emmerson Mnangagwa to power. The country’s political opposition accused Russia of having meddled in the election. The state’s authorities have rejected these claims, though.
OIL, GAS AND DIAMONDS
Naturally, Moscow’s aid for Mnangagwa was not unselfish. Zimbabwe is an instance of the Kremlin’s partnership with an African state, within the framework of which Russian-based firms advance the opportunity to bankroll local mineral deposits, albeit on preferential terms. In January 2019, Emmerson Mnangagwa made a trip to the Kremlin, seeking loans for his country’s crisis-ravaged economy. Still in the interview, Mnangagwa invited Russian companies to discuss potential investments in the country’s oil and gas projects as well as its energy sector. Among deals he signed with Russia was a fertilizer supply contract and two financing deals worth $267 million. There also came a recent decision of Alrosa, Russia ‘s leading diamond company, to come and mine in Zimbabwe while being granted the government’s full support. Following bilateral talks in the Kremlin, both countries sealed some deals, including the one on a joint platinum project. Zimbabwe’s incumbent government is currently considering repealing a law passed under Mugabe that prevented foreign investors from holding controlling stakes in local diamond mines. The government plans to target production of 12 million carats by 2023, up from 3.5 million carats in 2018.
Alrosa’s advance in Zimbabwe shows Russian pivot to Africa in search of new and cheaper mineral fields. The same activity is seen to be performed by Rosneft, Lukoil and Zarubezhneft (oil, gas), Rusal (aluminum, bauxite) and Prigozhin-linked firms (gold). Though Russia boasts massive mineral fields, recent years have seen it suffering from the lack of some rare minerals, including chromium, manganese and titanium, while some reserves (nickel and tin) are on their way towards depletion. The list of Russian firms involved in Africa is long, with Rusal mining bauxite in Guinea, Rosneft operating gas and oilfields across Egypt, Mozambique and Algeria, as well as Lukoil that boasts own investments in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. In July 2018, Russia’s state exploration company Rosgeologia signed an agreement with Sudan to explore for gas in the Red Sea. In 2018, Gabon pushed forward an offer for additional mining licenses for Russian Zarubezhneft while a year before, Rosneft had concluded a deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC).
Alrosa’s advance in Zimbabwe shows Russian pivot to Africa in search of new and cheaper mineral fields. The same activity is seen to be performed by Rosneft, Lukoil and Zarubezhneft (oil, gas), Rusal (aluminum, bauxite) and Prigozhin-linked firms (gold).
What is becoming more and more visible is Russia’s ongoing plan to develop the oil and gas industries. It is not about entering the countries that saw in the past Moscow’s decades-long presence, as in Libya. Moscow is setting its sights on expanding into Mozambique. In 2010, an Italian gas firm ENI discovered considerable gas fields there, a discovery that granted the country’s position among the world’s top gas-rich states. In August 2019, Russia forgave Mozambique nearly all of its debt to Moscow in exchange for favorable investment conditions. Rosneft signed a memorandum with Mozambique’s National Hydrocarbons Company (Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos E.P., ENH) to develop offshore natural gas fields in Mozambique. During the visit of the Congolese president to Moscow in late May 2019, Lukoil signed a letter of intent with Congo’s state-run oil company SNPC. One of Russia’s biggest oil giants acquired a 25-percent stake in the hydrocarbon project in the Republic of Congo, operated by Italian oil and gas company Eni. This is Lukoil’s first energy project in the Republic of Congo yet another on African soil; the oil company so far has left its footprint in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt. The last of the four countries hosts onshore projects while the three remaining ones are where Russia develops its offshore ventures.
Back then, Russia and the Republic of Congo inked eight deals and other bilateral documents, some of which refer to cooperation in such sector as mass communication or nuclear energy. The nuclear industry is an example of Moscow’s ever-increasing push for new investments across Africa. In July 2018, Nigeria confirmed Rosatom’s plan to develop the country’s nuclear power plant. Similar talks are underway with Angola. Moscow has signed memorandums of understanding on nuclear cooperation with Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of o Congo, Uganda, and Morocco. In August 2018, Rosatom’s proposal for building up its nuclear facilities premiered at a large-scale trade show in Zambia, a country that is home to the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology. Rosatom is also active in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Russia is flexing its economic muscles both in individual countries and across the African Union and various pan-African bodies.
 Media: w Afryce 100-200 rosyjskich ekspertów od marketingu politycznego, Polish Press Agency, March 20, 2019
All texts (expect images) published by the Warsaw Institute Foundation may be disseminated on condition that their origin is stated.