During the course of 2019, Russia renewed its effort to exert its presence beyond Eurasia and Syria — its most recent target is Africa.
In October, the president of the Central African Republic (CAR) Faustin-Archange Touadéra revealed that he was open to the prospect of a Russian military base in the country. In an interview with Russian state media, Touadéra said that he has asked Russia for more shipments of military hardware for his forces.
Since 2012, CAR has found itself embroiled in a civil war between the government and rebel forces. By some estimates, over 1.2 million people have been displaced by the conflict in a country of just over five million: This is the highest rate of displacement of any country.
While the government of the Central African Republic has received extensive support from the Russian government, including arms and training, it is not the only country that has sparked Moscow’s interest. In September, it was announced that Russia will be building a logistics center in Eritrea at one of the east African country’s ports.
This comes as the Kremlin hosted the first ever Russia-Africa summit. The gathering sought to further improve relations between Moscow and the African continent. Though total trade with the continent is still relatively small compared to that of Africa with Europe or China, Russia still has a significant market share in select sectors, namely arms, energy, and minerals.
In the past couple of years Moscow has also undersigned loans and concluded agreements to introduce nuclear energy to countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. At the same time, it has also been advancing its position when it comes to mining. These are all sectors in which Russia possesses significant technical know-how, enabling it to punch above its weight in the absence of large overall trade. These are also long term projects, which secure Russia’s position in the region while, at the same time, increasing its exposure to risk.
All this represents the first major return to the African continent since the days of the Soviet Union. The communist state was highly influential in the continent and had allied with several African countries, such as Angola, Mozambique, and others. But the collapse of the USSR and the economic downturn of the 1990s resulted in a massive curtailment of Russian involvement in Africa.
Unlike its predecessor state, however, Russia’s ongoing efforts are entirely non-ideological. Like China, Russia is offering deals which do not involve any political conditions or demands of reform. These requirements have caused friction between many African and western countries and institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. The emergence of rival models will likely force the U.S. and Western European states to reconsider their approach to Africa — which had largely been Europe’s “backyard” — as the African countries are offered a greater choice of partners.