While the major Western powers have launched full-scale campaigns to counter Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Europe, Moscow has silently entered a region that is in the backyard of global politics. In the past two months, Russia has entered Africa, and is now set to rapidly expand its presence.
The mainstream Western media is not covering what is happening in Africa and hardly ever will do due to public interest being focused on other issues and locations. However, the developments made by Russia are significant and the anger in some Western capitals is reaching boiling point.
Russia is moving fast and is, unexpectedly, being welcomed on the ground. In just two months, Russia’s peaceful “invasion” has already surpassed the scale of the Soviet Union’s presence and influence in some countries. Western capitals can only express concern and anger, while having no extra resources or instruments to counter Moscow’s successes on the African track. Everything is focused on the Middle East and Russia’s phantom threat to Europe, of which it has made perfect use.
Last year was very fruitful in terms of military agreements between Russia and African countries, and 2018 is seeing their implementation.
At the end of 2017, during the visit of Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera to Sochi, Russia and the CAR reached an agreement about military cooperation. Primarily, Russia was asked to prepare two battalions with light weapons, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns. For the implementation of the agreement, Moscow received an exemption from UN restrictions on weapons shipments to the CAR.
The first “coming-out” of Russia’s presence saw the CAR government officially acknowledge the presence of a “special unit of Russian special services in order to reinforce the president’s security.” A newly introduced position of security director is also held by a Russian officer. However, there are suspicions that his duties are not limited to purely security issues. Apparently, in exchange for Russian special forces guaranteeing stability and security in the CAR, and successful countering of terrorist threats, Russia will probably get access and control over certain mines.
After witnessing these developments in the CAR, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was previously so skeptical about Russia that it had mostly buried the existing convention on military cooperation it signed with Moscow in 1999, decided to reanimate this agreement and opened its doors to Russia.
Russia and Mozambique also made an agreement in April, according to which Russian military ships get free access to Mozambique’s ports for maintenance and refueling. Niger, meanwhile, also wants to increase military and economic cooperation with Russia. It is already purchasing Russian helicopters.
Guinea and Russia are working on a legal document regarding military cooperation, free access for the Russian fleet to Guinean ports, military training, cooperation in peacekeeping operations, counter-terrorism cooperation and other issues. Russia also boasts military cooperation with South Sudan and a military base in Djibouti.
China is another player that entered Africa some time ago. Beijing and Moscow seem to be dividing Africa into spheres of influence, splitting the best pieces of the pie between each other. Russia is getting the most important countries for its national interests and geopolitical ambitions, in particular by opening up new horizons for its naval fleet, new markets for its military equipment, and access to natural resources. Russia and China seem to have peacefully won the new race for Africa before it has even started.
- Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme