What message did Vladimir Putin send to African countries?

On the eve of the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for July 27–28 in St. Petersburg, an article by Russian President Vladimir Putin entitled “Russia and Africa: Joining Efforts for Peace, Progress and a Successful Future” was published on the Kremlin website and in foreign media, according to Financial and Business Vedomosti reporters Vladimir Kulagin and Gleb Mishutin.

According to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, the article was published in the media of 25 countries – these are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Guinea, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Congo, Mauritius, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Seychelles, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, South Africa, Ethiopia, Chad, Central African Republic . 

“We also do not rule out that it will be published in other countries in a few days, we are waiting for confirmation. Therefore, it is widely dispersed across the African continent,” Peskov said.

The President recalled the Soviet experience in helping the development of Africa, expressed support for the sovereignty of African states, stressing that Moscow strictly adheres to the principle of “African problems – an African solution.” A significant part of the article was devoted to recent events around the grain deal. Putin stressed that it did not bring any special results.

In almost a year, as part of the deal with Ukraine, a total of 32.8 million tons of cargo was exported, of which more than 70% went to countries with high and upper middle income levels, including the European Union, while countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Yemen and Afghanistan, accounted for less than 3% of the total volume – less than 1 million tons, the President of the Russian Federation said. That is why, he wrote, the continuation of the “unjustified humanitarian purpose” of the deal “has lost its meaning.” In addition, the Russian terms of the deal were not fulfilled either.

Russia, despite the sanctions, will work on organizing the supply of grain, food, fertilizers to Africa and beyond, Putin said in his article. “We highly appreciate and will continue to dynamically develop the entire range of economic ties with Africa – both with individual states, and with regional integration associations, and, of course, with the African Union,” it says. “We welcome the strategic course of this organization towards further economic integration and the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.”

The Russian Federation is ready to establish pragmatic, mutually beneficial ties, including through the Eurasian Economic Union. Peskov noted that Putin’s article was timed to coincide with the Russia-Africa summit, which will begin on Thursday, July 27, in St. Petersburg. This is “a very important event, a very representative event,” he stressed: “We are looking forward to this event, the Africans are looking forward to this event, so the second half of the week is going to be very, very eventful.”

According to Vedomosti’s diplomatic sources, it was not for nothing that Putin mentioned the African Union in his article. The fact is that during the summit, the emphasis can be placed on contacts not only with the heads of other states who are expected in Russia, but also with representatives of organizations representing the Black Continent at a serious level.

“The main program of the forum will take place on July 27,” notes one of Vedomosti’s sources. – It is on this day that Putin can meet with representatives of African interregional organizations. Among them, for example, is the chairman of the African Union, Azali Assoumani (president of the Comoros. – Vedomosti). According to this source, high-level representation from other countries is possible, in particular the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Felix Tshisekedi, and among the issues that the heads of state will discuss is a way out of the Ukrainian crisis.

Experts believe that the assumption about the visit of such delegations is logical. The African Union is a powerful international organization that includes 55 African states and is an important platform for solving problems between them, said Rakhimbek Bobokhonov, researcher at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Given that the summit will discuss the entire range of regional problems – from security to ethno-confessional relations – the presence of the leader of the organization at the summit is logical and justified,” the expert told Vedomosti.

The African Union, continues Bobokhonov, gives the countries of the continent the opportunity to solve their internal problems – and therefore there is nothing surprising in the fact that Russia will carry out part of its projects in Africa jointly with this organization. Also, the expert notes, many African countries wish to join the BRICS, and at the summit itself, the creation of a single currency will most likely be discussed. Given the serious expectations both in terms of the single currency and the summit as a whole, international officials responsible for this may be present there, the expert concludes.

As for the president of the DRC, Felix Tshisekedi was the chairman of the African Union until 2022, and, in addition, he was among the co-sponsors of the African peace initiative on Ukraine. Since African countries intended to raise again the issue of their mediation in Ukraine at the upcoming forum, Tshisekedi’s visit to Russia may be primarily related to this. At the same time, the DRC is a country with both a large territory, resources, population, and unresolved conflicts, where the efforts of the UN and Western countries turned out to be ineffective. In this regard, Kinshasa places certain hopes on the new architecture of relations that the BRICS countries are trying to build. It is also noteworthy that last spring the name of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was again returned to the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, which can be considered an unprecedented phenomenon outside of Africa.

At the last Russia-Africa forum in 2019 in Sochi, Egypt actually acted as a co-organizer of the event, says researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Grigory Lukyanov, including sending official invitations to the leaders of other African states. Cairo, including as a former chairman of the African Union, relied on the development of joint Russian-Egyptian actions on its continent. Some joint projects were also focused on this – for example, the creation of an industrial zone in the Suez Canal zone, Lukyanov notes. According to one of Vedomosti’s sources, it is possible that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be invited to Russia again.

Russia’s relations with Egypt cover almost all areas, including politics, security, and the economy. In addition, Cairo is extremely interested in food supplies, and therefore, against the backdrop of the end of the grain deal, there is a need to agree on alternative mechanisms, says Lukyanov. At the same time, he admits that South African President Ramaphosa may not come to the forum, although the peace initiative is important to him and he will find a way to promote it.

Maxim Ivanov participated in the preparation of this report.