By William Tucker
On July 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg with an eye towards expanding Russian influence in Africa, according to CNN. But unlike last year’s summit where 43 African nations were represented, only 17 decided to appear this year.
This decline in the presence of African leaders at the Russia-Africa summit does not indicate Russian influence is slipping as an alternative to the West. Instead, it appears that many African leaders would prefer to avoid entering a situation where their presence would be viewed as overly friendly to Russia.
Many African nations have economic ties with the West and clearly do not want to run afoul of Western sanctions on Russia by attending the Russia-Africa summit. However, they also must consider that a significant portion of their grain comes from Russia and Ukraine.
It’s all about balance for a number of African nations. With Russia leaving the Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, grain prices have risen. As a result, that places economic pressure on a number of governments heavily reliant on imported foodstuffs.
African Nations Have Always Been Attractive to Nations Seeking to Grow Their Power
While most African nations do not want to become pawns in a potential Cold War sequel, the race for resources from Africa will always attract outside players. Some of those players will come with more attractive offers than others.
Many African nations have struggled to gain post-colonial stability, whether that stability involves politics, economics, national security or all three. Additionally, international development assistance has been slow to appear.
In some cases, that international support often came with strings attached, and in other cases the support itself was a problem. These issues made Africa a target of influence during the Cold War with proxy fights between East and West, and the situation didn’t improve during the post-Cold War era.
The West is looking to isolate Russia due to the Ukrainian invasion, and East Asia nations are looking for economic and security advantages to contain China. As a result, African nations are once again becoming a battleground for outside powers.
Coups D’État in Africa Create Chaos, Making It Easier for Russia and Other Countries to Move In
There have already been several coups d’état in West Africa. Mali, Burkina-Faso, Guinea and now Niger have all transitioned to military rule via a coup d’état. Russian mercenaries with the Wagner Group have been invited to assist with security in Mali, for instance.
While the African region that hosted these coups d’état is no stranger to instability, it is interesting to note that much of southern Europe sources some energy from North Africa. With Western sanctions shutting off Russian gas to much of Europe, the energy challenge is growing worse.
By leveraging chaos, Russia sees an opportunity in trying to split the West. A coup d’état brings uncertainty, and that uncertainty forces people to flee their nation if possible, while others may suffer due to economic disruption or failing security.
Russia doesn’t always need to ensure that chaotic situations like a coup are successful; instead, there should be just enough chaos to introduce uncertainty. Europe has struggled with its energy challenges, but it has also struggled with overwhelming migration, which has created political turmoil in Europe.
Turkey has exploited this opening, as has Belarus. Now Moscow sees an opening by hitting Europe on two fronts, hoping to break the support for sanctions on Russia.
Africa is an unfortunate battleground. Both the Niger coup and the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg are clear indicators of just how important African nations are to Russian strategy.