Putting the traditional neutrality of African countries toward Russia to the test with the invasion of Ukraine

The continent is divided between sentencing and the specific obligation to mediate

Putin has stepped up military aid in recent years, but his influence is sporadic and open to criticism as a colonialist

Madrid, 4 (European press)
On Wednesday, 17 African countries abstained from the vote in the United Nations General Assembly on the draft condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the state of Eritrea directly opposed the text, the only country besides Russia itself, which was as a result, in the opinion of international experts, about the expansion of Russian influence in The African continent under President Vladimir Putin since 2006 became the first Russian leader to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

However, unlike with Crimea in 2014, the invasion puts the usual neutrality of African countries to the test regarding the international pressure the United States adopted against Russia at the United Nations forum on the long conflict in Ukraine. A 2021 report on the prospects for cooperation between Africa and Russia, published by the Moscow Higher School of Economics, indicated that African countries tend to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in the past.

This report highlighted, for example, that “no African country has imposed sanctions on Russia after 2014. In the UN vote on Ukraine-related issues, most countries on the continent expressed a neutral stance,” according to the report. By BBC.

Putin devoted part of his international policy to restoring economic and military relations with African countries, especially those in the Horn of Africa, after the so-called “lost years” under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. In 2015, the Russian president explicitly mentioned Africa within the guidelines of the country’s new international security policy, and four years later he organized a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, which was attended by 43 African heads of state and government. A second summit is scheduled for the fall, most likely in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Mali, which abstained on Wednesday, is now home to Russian agents helping the current putschist military junta ruling the country in the fight against jihadism. According to the Malian authorities, they are military trainers within the cooperation program between the two countries, while the United States denounces them as mercenaries for the Russian Wagner Group. Whatever the case, at the end of last month, residents of the Malian capital, Bamako, took to the streets carrying Russian flags to celebrate their presence while saluting the departure of French troops.

In 2020, African countries imported $4 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia; 90% wheat: Egypt, which accounted for nearly half of imports, followed by Sudan (abstained on Wednesday), Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria (abstained), Kenya and South Africa (abstained). “Since 2014, Russia has significantly diversified its economic engagements with African countries,” explains Tatiana Smirnova, a researcher at the University of Quebec.

To this must be added another fundamental issue: Russia is responsible for nearly half of all arms imports into Africa, according to the Russian Arms Export Agency and organizations that monitor arms transfers, in a representation that Russia demonstrates specific interests, largely military. Case by case, away from the general policy of loans offered by China, for example.

irregular effect
Hence the fact that countries like Kenya have spoken out radically against the invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s expansionist ambitions on the continent – as evidenced by the emotional rhetoric of its ambassador, Martin Kimani, who even referred to Africa’s colonial past – showing that Russia’s relations in Africa are largely linked to elites Rulers, who need military force, in countries where there is a large gap between their powers and the “common people”.

“It’s a relatively small number of countries, but they all have one characteristic that they are completely unstable and resource-oriented, or have military leaders at the top,” former World Bank adviser Harry Brodman told CNBC.

But, in general, with South Africa at the fore, African countries are more committed to mediation than condemnation, and have coldly received international sanctions against Moscow, especially in the field of precious metals such as platinum, which could lead to higher demand in the midst of a difficult recovery during The coronavirus pandemic, as explained by the country’s Finance and Finance Commission (FFC) on Tuesday, in a report compiled by the South African portal ‘Business Tech’.

Under this situation, the African Union finds it difficult to send a clear message for or against the invasion. However, it has declared that it is “disturbed” by some reports that Ukrainian forces are preventing the departure of African nationals living in Ukraine – where there are some 20,000 students from the continent -.

However, Russian military influence is capable of tipping the balance in some cases, see Uganda (which also abstained), where high levels of the military supported the invasion, only initiated by Muhuzi Kaynerugaba, commander of the ground forces and son of President Yoweri Museveni. “Most people (other than white people) support Russia’s position in Ukraine,” the general said.

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