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How Russia is pursuing state capture in Africa

The pushback in African states against state capture is simultaneously a push for better governance. Putin’s vision for Africa, in contrast, is a return to big man rule – where the big man is in Moscow.

Russia in Africa

Topic in Focus   published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies on March 4, 2022

Russia’s influence in Africa typically relies on irregular (and frequently extralegal) means to expand its influence. This low-cost, high influence strategy seeks to advance a very different world order than the rules-based, democratic political systems to which most Africans aspire.

The Future of Russia-Africa Relations

To understand Russia’s engagements in Africa, it is necessary to be clear that the “partnerships” that Russia seeks are not state- but elite-based.

Russia’s Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali

Spotlight   published by Joseph Siegle and Daniel Eizenga on September 23, 2021

The prospective deployment of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries should not be confused with addressing Mali’s security situation but is a means of expanding Russian influence while propping up the military junta.

Russia’s Strategic Goals in Africa

While Russia’s engagements in Africa are often viewed as opportunistic, in the space of a few years Moscow has been able to gain a foothold in the southern Mediterranean, become a powerbroker in geographically strategic countries, and undermine democratic norms on the continent.

Russia and Africa: Expanding Influence and Instability

Recommended research   published by Joseph Siegle, in Russia’s Global Reach: A Security and Statecraft Assessment (Marshall Center) on April 30, 2021

The main tools Russia relies on to assert influence on the continent—mercenaries, arms for resource deals, coopting and sustaining friendly leaders, and disinformation—are inherently destabilizing. While opportunistic, this approach provides Russia an opening to secure port access in the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea while undermining democratic norms in the region, advancing the Kremlin’s geostrategic interests.

Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa

Recommended research   published by Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on October 16, 2019

Russia is pursuing engagement with African states at an intensity not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. Through diplomatic overtures, arms sales and security cooperation, and energy development, Russia seeks to reassert itself as an economic and military partner. While Russia has made progress in attaining these goals, it also faces weaknesses that limit its ability to wield influence on the continent. Russia sees Africa as key to its goal of a more multipolar world. An even-handed U.S. approach toward Russian engagement in Africa that exposes malign influence without inflating Russian capabilities is necessary.