Many African countries this year participated in the International Military-Technical forum dubbed «ARMY-2018» organised by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in Kubinka, located approximately 280 km from Moscow.
The «ARMY-2018» received about 120 official delegations from foreign countries and featured nearly 150 events as part of its scientific business programme. The annual games allow the different world forces to improve their efficiency, knowledge and friendship. The army extravaganza, billed the Olympics of the Military World, now in its fourth year.
There were more than 26,000 exhibits on display especially the latest weapons aimed at attracting more foreign customers. The show featured Russia’s latest fighter jet, the Su-57, the Kinzhal hypersonic weapon and the Armata battle tank among other new weapons. It also had robotic systems and flyovers by the air force’s aerobatic squadrons.
President Vladimir Putin said in an address to the «ARMY-2018» that it reflected the huge potential of Russian military industries and would serve as a platform for military cooperation with interested foreign countries.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu emphasised that most new weapons at the show have proven their worth during the Syrian campaign. “They demonstrate the latest achievements of our industries and science,” he asserted.
During the event, General Director of ROE, Alexander Mikheev noted: “By tradition, it gives the RosOboronExport maximum monetisation of all exhibition events in the world. It gathers the largest number of foreign delegations in Moscow.”
He noted the increasing special demand from African countries. “We will see a real African breakthrough. In addition to our traditional partners from North Africa, we are waiting for representatives from 16 countries of the sub-Saharan continent at our booth and meeting rooms,” Mikheev said.
For example, as gathered at the forum, it became clear that Niger was interested in buying Russian helicopters and small arms, including grenade launchers. Several agreements reviewed and signed with a number of participating African countries including Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Central African Republic.
“Today (at the Army-2018 forum), we signed an intergovernmental agreement on military cooperation, the implementation of which will contribute to strengthening ties in the defense sector in a number of African countries,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during talks with the Minister of National Defense of Central African Republic, Marie Noel Coyara.
The Ministry reported on its website that “Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Alexander Fomin met with Ivory Coast Defense Minister, Hamed Bakayoko on the sidelines of the forum. During the meeting, the sides discussed military and military-technical cooperation projects and exchanged opinions on key regional security issues facing the African continent.”
The parties reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening friendly relations between the armed forces of the two countries further, it said. According to Fomin, there were many interested foreign customers including Asian and African countries, which works well for the Kremlin.
“The Soviet Union poured resources into the African continent for ideological reasons. Putin will not do such thing. We know that the African continent has a great potential and it can be market-oriented and based on mutual interest,” he finally stressed.
Still, the Kremlin’s larger aims are political and geostrategic. Putin’s overall military moves in the Middle East but also North Africa limit the West’s ability to maneuver.
North African countries on the Mediterranean’s southern coast can potentially gain Russia, a traditional land power, access to additional warm water ports – something Russian leaders coveted since Peter the Great. Such access would allow Russia to project military power into Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
On top priority are Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Angola. East and Southern African countries are also Russia’s market focus while recently concluded agreements with Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Rwanda, Burundi and Chad.
Algeria has long been in Moscow’s camp and remained a top buyer of Russian arms throughout the 2000s. But in 2014, the two countries signed a $1 billion arms deal which a Russian military expert in business-oriented Vedomosti financial newspaper described as “possibly the largest export contract for main battle tanks in the world.”
“Several financial arrangements were also made to ensure financing of developments and production of modern military equipment samples. Firm orders from countries in Asia and Africa, and the CIS became part of Rostec’s portfolio of orders,” according to the document released August 26.
Over recent years, Russia has considerably expanded its arms sales, both in terms of the number of African countries involved in the deals and the types of weapons and military equipment being sold, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
By estimation, Russia shipped US$357.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. This included African countries. Africa accounted for 13% of Russian arms sales over the last five years.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided huge quantities of arms to a number of African governments such as Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique. But, now ideology is not a significant factor, according to analysis by both foreign and local policy experts.
As Anna Borshchevskaya, an Ira Weiner fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explicitly observes that military has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, and Russian authorities have been strengthening military-technical cooperation with a number of African countries.
“A major driver for Moscow’s push into Africa is military cooperation more broadly. These often include officer training and the sale of military equipment, though the details are rarely publicly available,” she also acknowledges in her discussion for this news report.
Dmitri Bondarenko, Deputy Director of the African Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told me: “With African countries, the primary aim now for Russian business is to regain a competitive edge in the global arms trade, and what’s interesting is that the approach is not ideological but very pragmatic – you pay, we ship. It’s simply business and nothing more.”
Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), founded in 1997 as a leading Russian defense industry and arms trade think tank, explained to me that Russia has revived contacts with African comrades that used to be traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry.
He pointed out that although much has changed in the sense, “Russia is using military diplomacy in order to gain stature and influence in Africa.”
Nikolai Shcherbakov, an Analyst at the Center for African Studies of the Institute of General History, indicated that Moscow is steadily seeking to strengthen its position as a major arms supplier to the African continent, and further explained that “Russia’s military technology was top-notch while the weapons were priced very good to be competitive on the market.”
In his assessment, Dr Richard Connolly, Associate Fellow at Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House, noted that Russia is the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the US, and is seeking to strengthen its position in new markets.
“Asia is the most important foreign market for Russian arms producers, accounting for 70 per cent of their exports since 2000. The Middle East and North Africa is the second-most important market, but competition from other suppliers is much more intense there. Latin America and Africa are of relatively modest importance,” he concluded.