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Russia is building military influence in Africa, challenging U.S., France

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – August 8, 2020: Ethiopians hold up posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government rally condemning the People’s Liberation Front Tigray (TPLF) revolt.

Minasse Wondimu Hailu / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia is challenging the status quo in Africa, using insecurity and diplomatic disputes with Western powers as a springboard to expand its presence on the continent.

From Libya to Nigeria, Ethiopia to Mali, Moscow has been building strategically important military alliances and an increasingly favorable public profile across Africa in recent years.

The heart of this effort is to offer alternatives to countries that have grown disgruntled with Western diplomatic partnerships.

The second Russia-Africa summit is scheduled to take place in 2022. At the inaugural summit in Sochi in 2019, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia “will not participate in a ‘ redistributing’ the wealth of this continent; instead, we are willing to join. to compete for cooperation with Africa.”

Through the UN, Russia has also provided aid in the form of food and medical assistance along with growing commercial, economic and military support across the continent.

Russia’s bilateral push

In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, the two most populous countries in Africa.

NS Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Africa accounted for 18% of Russia’s arms exports from 2016 to 2020.

Russian mercenaries have also provided direct support to governments in Libya and the Central African Republic, according to the UN. However, the Kremlin has denied links to the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization accused by the United Nations of abetting human rights abuses in the region.

“A group of Russian guides was sent to CAR at the request of the leaders and with the knowledge of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on CAR established under Resolution 2127.” a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry in July. “Clearly, none of them were involved in combat operations.”

Reuters reported in July that US lawmakers had stalled a plan to sell $1 billion worth of weapons to Nigeria due to allegations of human rights abuses by the government.

Less than a month later, Russia signed an agreement with the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to provide military equipment, training and technology to Nigerian forces.

MOSCOW – Members of the Nigerian delegation inspect a Russian Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter military helicopter during the opening day of the MAKS-2021 International Air and Space Exhibition in Zhukovsky, a suburb of Moscow on Jan. July 20, 2021.

DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP via Getty Images

Although historically an important diplomatic and commercial partner of the United States, Buhari’s government finds itself at odds with Washington in the context of #EndSARS rallies in 2020, and again after a recent incident with Twitter.

Meanwhile, Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram and the West African Province of the Islamic State have pursued devastation in the northeast of the country.

The combination of factors that paved the way for Russian influence building is also taking place in Ethiopia. Russia has supported the Government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after Western governments balked at the military response of his forces to an uprising north of Tigray.

Ethiopia feels the United States in particular is aligning with Egypt in the ongoing dispute over Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken further fueled Addis Ababa’s fury in March by accusing forces in Tigray of “ethnic cleansing”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov then met with his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in June. Moscow proceeded with the deployment. Election observers to Ethiopia, when EU withdraws its observers, citing “ongoing violence across the country, human rights violations and political tensions, harassment of media staff and detained opposition members.”

SOCHI, Russia – October 23, 2019: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (4th) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd) during Russian-Ethiopian talks on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at Science Park learn Sirius and Art.

Donat Sorokin TASS via Getty Images

Russia has provided strategic weapons both for potential defense against any Egyptian attack on GERD and to support government forces in Tigray.

“The interests of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), which have captured the Afar and Amhara regions in recent weeks, make the supply of much-needed weapons all the more important to Addis Ababa, and Moscow is likely to have to make such a request, possibly on a buy-now-pay-later basis,” said Louw Nel, senior political analyst at NKC African Economics.

In what Nel marked as “a sign of things to come,” Ethiopia and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement in July, focusing specifically on knowledge and technology transfer. However, Nel noted that Ethiopia would “be wary of allowing Russian personnel to be deployed there in anything other than a training capacity.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

US ‘building escalation’

The US has committed to resuming economic and commercial engagement in Africa, but a limitation in the military’s plans is giving way to spending, according to a recent report by the risk intelligence firm Pangea. much for bases of operations and long-term plans to maintain a strategic presence, according to a recent report from risk intelligence firm Pangea. -Put on luck.

In 2018, then-US national security adviser John Bolton pointed to Russia’s “expansionist influence across Africa” ​​and Washington was keen to keep its footing on the continent.

The Biden administration is set to maintain 27 active US military outposts on the continent, while its Africa Command (Africom) is prioritizing counterterrorism targets in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region.

The US is also establishing a presence in other strategically important areas, such as the Red Sea and the Gulf of Guinea. Some $330 million reported to be spent in 2025 on the construction of US military bases and related infrastructure projects, while Africom is drawing up a 20-year strategic plan.

This will focus on counterterrorism, special forces operations and humanitarian assistance, along with protecting US commercial interests from the growing presence of China and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and staff members participate in a virtual bilateral meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 27, 2021.

LEAH MILLIS / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

The report notes that the Cape Verde government as of July 2020 has agreed to a State of Force Agreement with the US military to allow US troops to operate from its archipelago.

“Such an agreement makes sense in the context of global geopolitical competition in West Africa and the need to counter the growing threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, both of which are existential threats,” he said. to America’s commercial interests,” said Pangea-Risk CEO Robert Besseling.

“However, the one-year-old SOFA with Cape Verde raises questions about the broader diplomatic and judicial commitments of the United States in the country, and whether this sets a pattern for the US relationship – Africa in the future or not.”

Comfort Ero International Crisis Group Africa Program director, said the “increasing build-up” of the US military on the continent came with mixed messages, accusing both the US and European governments Africa lacks transparency.

The US is likely to gradually phase out its direct military presence in insecurity hotspots, Pangea-Risk said, but will continue to seek SOFA agreements with countries of strategic importance. , adding that Washington would be reluctant to withdraw altogether due to the presence of China and Russia.

France struggles in the Sahel

France maintains the largest presence and numbers of any former colonial power in Africa, especially with 5,100 troops in the Sahel, where the border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger has met. become a hotbed of violence.

“Paris has been inconsistent in its treatment of friendly regimes that allowed an unconstitutional transfer of power in Chad but took a tougher line after the coup in Mali,” said Nel of the NKC.

French President Emmanuel Macron supports a military-led transition from Chadian President Idriss Deby, who was killed in battle with rebel forces in April, with his son. This violated the country’s constitution and led to anti-French protests and vandalism of a Total gas station.

PAU, France – French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets Chad President Idriss Deby ahead of a summit meeting on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau on January 13, 2020.

GEORGES GOBET / AFP via Getty Images

However, when Colonel Assimi Goïta establishes military rule in MaliMacron denounced the coup and suspended a joint military operation with the Malian army. The protests that followed were also hostile towards France, while Russian flags and posters were still visible.

“Given the clear negative trend in political stability in Mali, there is reason to consider the danger that it could end up like CAR, where the weak government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra is fundamentally weak. preserved by Russian forces: mercenaries of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group,” said Nel.

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