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Russia Will “Explore New Territories” in Africa to Boost Military Cooperation – Analysts

Russia Will “Explore New Territories” in Africa to Boost Military Cooperation – Analysts

Analysts contacted by Lusa say that Russia will continue to ‘explore new territories’ in Africa to which to extend its military cooperation, despite having signed agreements with 43 countries on the continent between 2015 and November 2023.

The military cooperation agreement signed by São Tomé and Príncipe on April 24 and in force since April 5 adds another African country to the already extensive list of security and defence relations between Russia and Africa, but the Russian presence on the continent ‘is not substantive in terms of investment’ and has been ‘largely amplified by Russian disinformation’, said Crisis Group International researcher Enrica Pico, speaking to Lusa.

‘Russia will continue to have a significant presence and should want to explore new territories or new areas [in Africa], beyond the Sahel, where it entered following several coups d’état,’ said Nicodemus Minde, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

According to this analyst, ‘Moscow is not only looking at West Africa, but also East Africa, namely Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, and further south, Mozambique as well, with Zimbabwe and South Africa having close historical relations’.

Enrica Pico also believes that Russia will continue to expand its presence on the African continent, but will keep it ‘light’. Moscow ‘will expand the number of agreements with countries with which it can maintain this light presence and influence, if it doesn’t cost too much investment,’ she told Lusa.

According to the researcher, who was part of the United Nations panel of experts for the Central African Republic, where Russia has maintained a presence through the paramilitary Wagner Group, ‘this strategy is very deep-rooted, and the Russians will take every opportunity they can’.

‘And if the opportunity comes from former Portuguese colonies or other countries that were not so open to Moscow until now, they won’t miss it; they’ll keep their eyes open for any kind of opportunity, as they have done until now,’ he emphasised.

According to an investigation published by the European Parliament’s Think Tank last February, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and the subsequent open confrontation with the West in ‘all arenas’, ‘have once again highlighted the African continent as an area of geopolitical rivalry’, to which Moscow – but not only Moscow – has devoted particular attention.

‘Russia’s current involvement on the continent seeks to break the diplomatic and economic isolation imposed by the West, reaffirm its own relevance on the international stage as a leader of the new “polycentric world” and advance its geostrategic ambitions in terms of mining, energy and military presence in key areas,’ wrote EP research office researchers Anna Caprile and Eric Pichon.

This research uncovered the existence of military agreements signed by Moscow with 43 African countries between 2015 and November 2023.

‘These agreements reflect various levels of involvement, from general and ceremonial agreements to more specific and substantial co-operation in areas such as the training of military personnel, arms supplies, support for the fight against terrorism and access to military or civilian ports and air bases,’ write the researchers.

The agreement with São Tomé is similar, but brings a substantive novelty by providing for ‘cooperation’ between the two countries ‘within the framework of international organisations and forums on fundamental issues of international security and stability’, according to the text of the agreement, to which Lusa has had access.

As São Tomé has twice voted in the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, what has been formalised above is particularly important in the event of a change in São Tomé’s position on the war in Europe.

Apart from having tried to establish its own military bases in six countries (Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sudan, according to the study), ‘only the agreement with Sudan seems to be actively pursued’.

‘If concluded, the agreement with Sudan [from which there are indications that Moscow is supporting both sides in the war that began on 15 April 2023] will allow Russia to establish a “logistical supply point” in Port Sudan for military vessels, including nuclear vessels, and to deploy up to 300 soldiers at the naval base,’ Caprile and Pichon point out.

Through military co-operation agreements and ‘ad hoc’ agreements, Russia has become an important arms supplier to Africa.

Imports from Russia accounted for 40 per cent of African imports of major weapons systems in the period between 2018 and 2022, surpassing supplies from the United States, Europe and China.

Beyond the arms trade, Russia’s trade with Africa has increased substantially since 2005, although it is still relatively insignificant compared to other trading partners.

In 2022, Africa’s imports from Russia accounted for less than 2 per cent of the continent’s total imports, while imports from the European Union and China accounted for 25 per cent and 18 per cent of the market respectively, according to the EP office’s research.

Africa’s exports to Russia represent an even smaller share of the market (less than 1 per cent in 2022, compared to 33 per cent for the EU and 12.18 per cent for China). The United States’ share is approximately 5 per cent, both in exports and imports.

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Finally, Russia has a considerable presence in the African mining and energy market, with ‘Russian mining concessions concentrated in countries characterised by poor governance, such as the Central African Republic, Guinea Conakry, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sudan, which blurs the line between official and unofficial concessions,’ according to the researchers.

Russian involvement in oil and gas extraction projects is more diverse in geographical terms, but once again Caprile and Pichon emphasise that ‘Russian companies are not official partners in any of the major African oil and gas projects’. In fact, Russia contributes less than 1% of foreign direct investment in the sector on the continent.




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