Sergey Lavrov went on an important tour of the Black Continent
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went on a tour of African countries. The activity of Russian diplomacy in the African direction causes serious concern in the West, which sees a threat to its plans to arrange total isolation of Russia on the world stage.
Photo: Global Look Press
“President of Russia Vladimir Putin positions himself as the leader of a global movement rebelling against the dominance of the United States and its allies,” – writes The New York Times in connection with the start of Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to the Black Continent.
According to the American edition, the Russian Foreign Minister made it clear that he would use this trip to try to blame food shortages in African countries to the West and present Russia as a true ally of the continent.
“We know that African colleagues do not approve of the overt attempts by the United States and its European satellites to gain the upper hand and impose a unipolar world order on the international community,” — The New York Times quotes an article by Lavrov published in newspapers in the four countries he planned to visit (Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo).
In Egypt, Lavrov was scheduled to meet with officials in Cairo, who are trying to link deep ties with Russia to a close relationship, and with the United States, which, along with other Western powers, is seeking to isolate Russia with tough sanctions after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, Reuters reports.
Egypt has important strategic and economic ties with Russia, which in recent years has been a key source of wheat, weapons and — before the Ukrainian conflict, which complicated travel — tourists, reminds Reuters. This week, the Russian state energy corporation Rosatom began construction of Egypt's first nuclear power plant, the largest bilateral project with Cairo since the completion of the Aswan Dam on the Nile in 1970.
According to diplomats, close Russian-Egyptian ties have caused discontent among Western states, a group of which before the visit Lavrova appealed to the Egyptian government and the League of Arab States demanding “not to play along with the Russian version of events in Ukraine.”
At the same time, as Reuters notes, the West's position on the Ukrainian conflict has received limited support in the Arab world and Africa, where governments are receptive to non-Western alternatives, H.A. Hellyer of the Royal United Services Institute. Egypt “realizes that the world is becoming more and more multipolar, and it does not want to limit itself to relationships that put the West above everything,” — said an expert from a British think tank.
Political scientist Jamal Shakra said Lavrov's visit to Egypt was in line with an “open-minded position” Cairo on the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. The expert expects Lavrov to use this visit to clarify Russia's views on the situation and to attract allies outside the West.
According to Arab News, the Russian Foreign Minister's African tour follows US President Joe Biden's first visit to the Middle East, during which the head of the White House visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia. In this regard, a member of the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Council, Hussein Haridi, said that Lavrov's visit “is not a response” Biden, because in this case, Russia is pursuing its interests in Africa, and not in the Middle East. Haridi added that Moscow has a “big presence in the region” and that Arab and African countries are seeking to strengthen relations with Moscow but will avoid becoming involved in the conflict in Ukraine. A former Egyptian diplomat said that the course of Egyptian-Russian bilateral relations is “completely independent” from Ukrainian events.
After meeting with Arab League officials in Cairo, the Russian minister will travel to Ethiopia and Uganda, two countries whose relations with the West have soured, according to Reuters, as well as the Republic of the Congo.
In Africa, Russia has found opportunities to regain its influence by offering security assistance on lower terms than the West and political cover from Western criticism, says Theodore Murphy, Director for Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the countries with which Moscow established ties was the second most populous country in Africa – Ethiopia, with which Western relations deteriorated after conflict erupted in the northern Tigray region in 2020, causing the European Union to suspend budget support and the United States to suspend a trade deal that gives Ethiopia preferential terms of market access.
Relations between oil-rich Uganda and the West have also soured over allegations against Kampala of human rights abuses by state security forces, electoral violence and rampant corruption, Reuters notes.
Governments in Africa and the Middle East found themselves between Russia and the West since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, facing pressure from the West to express disapproval of the Russian special operation, while trying to maintain access to Russian grain and other export goods.
US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer is also set to visit the region on Sunday, traveling to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia for diplomatic talks, The New York Times notes.
For months, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union sharply blamed Russia for cutting off the supply of Ukrainian grain to the world through the Black Sea, blaming Moscow for the global food shortage.
On Friday, Russia agreed to a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that would allow Ukraine to export its grain.
Public opinion in African countries seems to be swinging between support for Ukraine and sympathy for Russia's justification of its special operation.
While not many African leaders have publicly supported Russia, no African country has joined the US or European sanctions against Moscow, The New York Times admits.
This balance became clear last month when the head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, met with Vladimir Putin. The Senegalese president has asked his Russian counterpart to release blocked Ukrainian grain, but he also echoed Moscow's argument that Western sanctions have exacerbated the food crisis and explicitly called for the lifting of restrictions on Russian wheat and fertilizer exports.
While the sanctions don't really apply to these goods, shipping companies, insurers, banks and other businesses are nonetheless reluctant to do business with Russia for fear of breaking rules or damaging their reputation, according to The New York Times.
In his article, Minister Lavrov praised African leaders for resisting Western pressure to join the sanctions against Russia. “Such an independent path deserves deep respect,” — wrote the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Commenting on Moscow's activity in Africa, The New York Times claims that for President Putin, “the idea that Russia is leading a worldwide uprising against Western hegemony has become the basis of his appeal to world public opinion.” in the context of the current crisis. He, continues the American edition, has repeatedly described the United States and its allies as a “golden billion”, which lives well at the expense of everyone else.
“Why should this golden billion, which is only a part of the world's population, dominate all the rest and impose its own rules of conduct based on the illusion of exclusivity? — said the Russian leader on Wednesday at a forum in Moscow. – He mostly accomplished this by plundering other peoples in Asia and Africa.
As Muriti Mutiga, director of the Africa program for the International Crisis Group, says Russia has several advantages as it seeks to win the hearts and minds of the continent: the network elites who studied in the Soviet Union, “enduring loyalty” groups it has supported in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and in supplying weapons to many African governments.
“However, Moscow will be disappointed if it expects other African governments to offer its full support , — Mutiga thinks. – The overwhelming instinct of the authorities on the continent — remain non-aligned and stay away from confrontation between Russia and the West.