The Disruptor—A Recent History of Russia in Africa

The Disruptor—A Recent History of Russia in Africa

It is said that concerns by former French President Jacques Chirac on the need to contain the United States as it expanded its role in Africa in the late 1990s prompted French backchannel communications with Russia, lamenting Moscow’s retrenchment from the region in the decade following the Cold War. Responding, in part, to such prodding from French officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin began elevating Africa’s place in Moscow’s foreign policy in 2001.

This anecdote is just one of the many revelations captures in Samuel Ramani’s captivating book, Russia in Africa: Resurgent Great Power or Bellicose Pretender? The irony, of course, is that today Russia is activetly undermining French relationships on the continent with a relentless disinformation campaign blaming France for a litany of security and economic travails facing its former colonies. The ensuing vacuum of external partners is one Moscow has been happy to fill. …

Putin’s Strategy to Maximize Russian Influence

Having few enduring ties on the continent and an economy roughly a 30th the size of that of the European Union in 2000, the strategy that Putin settled on was to be a disruptor—in line with his vision of a mlutipolar international system. Russia’s focus would be anti-Western, anti-democratic, counter–coloured revolutions, and, over time, anti-UN.

Drawing on the tactics and policies initially formulated by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the late 1990s, Putin’s strategy was intended to carve out a Russian sphere of influence in an otherwise competitive geostrategic landscape for Moscow. In practical terms, this mostly entatiled partnerships with ostracised authoritarian regimes who welcomed Moscow’s explicit rejection of democratic and human rights norms while offering political cover at the UN. Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea), and Lasana Conté (Guinea) were early beneficiaries of Russia’s renewed interest in the continent. …

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