Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations, and a significant role was in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, thus on October 23-24, Sochi hosted the first Russia-Africa Summit.
The idea to organise such an event emerged quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.
Putin has outlined a comprehensive plan and taken note of key factors that includes:
* Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries, Russia is carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes.
* As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation. Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. African partners, in turn, will have create the necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favourable investment climate.
* Africa’s infrastructure needs are increasing, and African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands. All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.
* Russia has certainly take note of these factors and draw conclusions. Russia is not going to participate in a new “repartition” of the continent’s wealth; rather, ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided this competition is civilized and develops in compliance with the law. Russia has a lot to offer to its African friends.
Under the headline “Russia-Africa Summit: Future-Oriented Agenda” for the Valdai Discussion Club, Deputy Director and Chief Researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Vladimir Shubin, noted that one should not be surprised that the first summit bringing together Russia and the leaders of African countries should take place after almost three decades, due to multiple factors during the period after Soviet collapse.
Further, he mentioned that one serious obstacle to the development of comprehensive ties is the lack of objective information about Russia in Africa, and about Africa in Russia. The potential of bilateral relations can be realised only if both sides shed the stereotypes imposed from outside and develop mutually beneficial cooperation, grounded in reality.
Shubin added, regrettably that “the state of bilateral economic relations leaves much to be desired.” But, Moscow seeks to create favourable conditions by writing off the debt of African countries (US$20 billion), as well as introducing a system of preferences for traditional African export goods.
However, trade turnover remains limited, at less than 3% of Russia’s total foreign trade. According to the African Development Bank, Russian investment in Africa peaked at US$20 billion, although its flow is hardly stable. Unfortunately, in these areas Western sanctions have become an obstacle in recent years.
Russia’s presence in Africa has remained marginal, but this could soon change. Several delegations from African states have visited Moscow during the past few years and the Russian government appears determined to strengthen ties with Africa.
But, Russia’s intensified move to invite delegations has often been interpreted among academics and policy experts as a result of escalating competition and increasing economic influence by many foreign players in Africa.
Professor Georgy Toloraya, Chair of the Regional Projects Department, Russkiy Mir Foundation, and Executive Director, BRICS National Research Committee in Russia, explained that in the wake of increasing conflict with the West and European Union, Russia has to turn its attention (especially in economy) elsewhere and Africa is the obvious choice. The time has come to make meaningful efforts to implement agreements on bilateral basis.
Some experts acknowledge that it is never too late for Russia to enter the business game but what it requires here is to move beyond old stereotypes, prioritise corporate projects and have a new policy strategy for the continent – a market of some 350 million middle-class Africans.
Russia has to risk by investing and recognise the importance of cooperation on key potential investment issues, work closely with African leaders on the challenges and opportunities on the continent, Andy Kwawukume, an independent policy expert told me in an emailed discussion from London, noting that Russians have been trying to restage a comeback over the past few years, which was a commendable step forward.
Kwawukume, a Norwagian trained graduate, pointed out that “there is enough room and gaps in Africa for Russians to fill too, in a meaningful way, that can benefit all parties involved. The poor and low level of infrastructural development in Africa constitutes a huge business for Russian construction companies to step in. Energy is another sector Russians can help in developing. Russian officials should consider using its Russian trained African graduates as bridges to stimulate business cooperation.”
But, John Mashaka, a Tanzanian financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets in the U.S., argues that Russia is going to remain relevant in Africa if its leaders can design a policy or mechanism that will enable its people and corporations to secure credits – loans – with favourable terms including payment.
It must counter China’s increasing economic influence with much better packages such as concessional and low-interest loans. There are chances to turn the business tide and if Russians can come with a different mix of economic incentives, without doubt, they will be taking off from the track where the former USSR left after the collapse of the Soviet era.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that it was to develop a trustworthy political dialogue and strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in accordance with the declaration on strategic partnership and to forge cooperation in mutually beneficial economic spheres.
Lavrov further stressed the situation in different African regions, including to the north of the Sahara, in the region of the Horn of Africa, including the situation in Somalia, in the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan, the Central African Republic, in the Great Lakes Region, which is the key focus of attention in the foreign policy.
“We would like to contribute to the normalisation of all multifaceted ties, as well as the settlement of other problem issues in the African continent,” said Foreign Minister Lavrov. As far back as May 2014, while addressing African diplomatic representatives, Lavrov said: “We will continue to assist states of the continent in other areas both in bilateral and multilateral formats. As it is known, Russia has written off over US$20 billion debt of African states. We are undertaking steps to further ease the debt burden of Africans, including through conclusion of agreements based on the scheme debt in exchange for development.”
In an article headlined: “Russia and Sub-Saharan Africa: Time-proven Relations” published in the magazine Russian View in May, Sergey Lavrov gave additional information on gains made in policy implementation in Africa.
“Our country takes significant practical steps to assist sustainable development of African states. Russia provides African countries with extensive preferences in trade and contributes to alleviating their debt burden – the total amount of debt relief exceeds US$20 billion. Debt-for-development agreements for a total amount of US$552 million were concluded with certain States,’ Lavrov wrote in the article.
Obviously, Russia continues providing the necessary politico-diplomatic follow-up for the African activities of leading Russian companies such as Alrosa, Gazprom, Lukoil, Rusal, Renova, Gammakhim, Technopromexport, VEB and VTB banks, which are engaged in large-scale investment projects on the continent. Positive dynamics are evident in the development of Russian-African cooperation in the minerals and raw materials, infrastructure, energy and many other spheres.
Some experts have offered both criticism and expert advice, often comparing Russia’s economic investment and influence to other foreign players. As Dane Erickson, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado and formerly a visiting scholar at the Africa Studies Center at Beijing University, argues that the reality is that China is among many international players that have increased their attention to Africa in recent years.
Largely due to Africa’s growing reputation as a region for commerce, over the past few years China, India, Japan, and the European Union all have hosted regional meetings similar to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Africa’s fractional share in global foreign direct investment (FDI) is on the rise, and trade between Africa and a multitude of nations is also increasing rapidly, according to Erickson.
China’s trade has increased rapidly. For example, China is the most conspicuous among these actors. China’s first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) occurred in 2000 and larger conferences have taken place every three years since. And while China’s official FDI is only 25 percent of that of countries like the U.S. and France, its trade dwarfs the figures of other nations. Up from just US$10 billion in 2000, Chinese-African trade came to over US$200 billion double that of the United States, the continent’s second largest trading partner.
Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote that “what seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves.
Professor Olivier added that Russian presence in Africa could be directed at promoting economic development and political stability in Africa by introducing more healthy competition, partnership, and greater responsibility on the continent.
Important though is the fact that the Soviet Union never tried to colonize Africa. Soviet influence in Africa disappeared almost like a mirage with the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991. In the current assessment of Russia’s influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, has remained marginal. While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired diplomat.
Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present “paper diplomacy” dominates its approach, a plethora of agreements being entered into with various African countries, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes has remained hardly discernible. Be that as it may, the Kremlin has revived its interest in the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results, Professor Olivier wrote from Pretoria in South Africa.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that trade between Russia and Africa would grow further as more and more African partners continued to show interest in having Russians in the economic sectors in Africa.
“Our African partners are interested in Russian business working more actively there. This provides greater competition between the companies from Western countries, China, and Russia. With competition for developing mineral resources in Africa, it is easier and cheaper for our African colleagues to choose partners,” he told the staff and students at Moscow State Institute of International Affairs early September.
Soviet Union and Africa had very close and, in many respects, allied relations with most of the African countries during the decolonisation of Africa. For obvious reasons, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. As a result, Russia has to struggle through many internal and external difficulties. The past few years, it is still struggling to survive both the United States and European sanctions.
For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and new strategies for cooperation in economic areas in Africa. A number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held gatherings of this kind in that format. Now, Kremlin has held the first Russia-Africa Summit with high hopes of enhancing multifaceted ties, reshape the existing relationships and significantly roll out ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa.
Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans
Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.
Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.
On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.
At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass
Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.
On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.
On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.
There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.
As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.
I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.
Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.
To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.
The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.
The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.
I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.
From our partner RIAC
Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom
Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.
The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.
All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.
The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.
For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.
The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.
In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.
Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.
Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.
The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.
The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.
The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.
The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.
The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.
Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.
From our partner RIAC
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