The traditional neutrality in the UN of African countries over Russia is put to the test with the invasion of Ukraine

Archive - Russo-African Summit in Sochi, 2019

Archive – Russo-African Summit in Sochi, 2019 – -/Kremlin/dpa – File

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The continent is divided between sentencing and the specific commitment to mediation

Putin has stepped up military aid in recent years but his influence is spotty and prone to criticism as colonialist


Seventeen African countries abstained on Wednesday from voting in the UN General Assembly on the draft condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and one, Eritrea, directly opposed the text, the only one along with Russia itself, in which it is a consequence, in the opinion of international experts, of the expansion of Russian influence on the African continent under President Vladimir Putin since in 2006 he became the first Russian leader to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

However, and unlike what happened with Crimea in 2014, the invasion is really putting to the test the usual neutrality of African countries in relation to the international pressure championed by the United States against Russia in the UN forum on the long conflict in Ukraine. A 2021 report on the prospects for Africa-Russia cooperation, published by the Moscow Higher School of Economics, noted African countries have tended to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in the past.

This report highlighted, for example, that “none of the African countries introduced sanctions against Russia after 2014. In the UN vote on issues related to Ukraine, most countries on the continent expressed a neutral position,” according to the report. , picked up by the BBC network.

Putin has devoted part of his international policy to reestablishing economic and military connections with African countries, particularly those in the Horn of Africa region, after the so-called “lost years” of the era of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. In 2015, the Russian president explicitly mentioned Africa within the guidelines of the country’s new international security policy, and four years later he organized a Russian-African summit in the city of Sochi, which was attended by 43 heads of African State and Government. A second summit is planned for the fall, presumably in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

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Mali, which abstained from voting on Wednesday, is now home to Russian operatives who are helping the current military coup junta that rules the country in the fight against jihadism. According to the Malian authorities, they are military trainers within the cooperation program between the two countries, while the United States denounces that they are mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group. Be that as it may, at the end of last month, the population of the Malian capital, Bamako, took to the streets with Russian flags to celebrate their presence while applauding the departure of French troops.

In 2020, African countries imported $4 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia; 90 percent wheat. Egypt, which accounted for nearly half of imports, followed by Sudan (abstaining in Wednesday’s vote), Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria (abstaining), Kenya and South Africa (abstaining). “Russia has been since 2014”, explains to ‘Foreign Policy’ the researcher at the University of Quebec, Tatiana Smirnova, “considerably diversifying its economic associations with African countries”.

To this must be added another essential issue: Russia is responsible for almost half of all arms imports into Africa, according to the Russian arms export agency and the organizations that monitor arms transfers, in what is a representation that Russia exhibits specific interests, largely militaristic and case by case, far from the more general policy of loans exhibited by China, to give an example.

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Hence the fact that countries like Kenya spoke out radically against the invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s expansionist ambitions on the continent — as demonstrated by the passionate speech of its ambassador, Martin Kimani, who even referred to the colonialist past of Africa — which shows that Russia’s relations in Africa are largely linked to the ruling elites, in need of military power, in countries where there is a huge gap between their authorities and the “common people”.

“It’s a relatively small number of countries, but they all have one characteristic which is that they are quite unstable and resource-oriented, or have military leaders at the top,” former World Bank adviser Harry Broadman told CNBC.

But, in general terms, with South Africa at the forefront, African countries are more committed to mediation than to conviction, and have coldly received international sanctions against Moscow, particularly in the area of ​​precious metals such as platinum, which can lead to higher demand in the midst of a difficult recovery process during the coronavirus pandemic, as the country’s Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) explained on Tuesday, in a report collected by the South African portal ‘Business Tech’.

Given this situation, the African Union is finding it difficult to send a clear message for or against the invasion. However, she did declare herself “disturbed” by certain reports that the Ukrainian forces were preventing the departure of African citizens living in Ukraine — where there are some 20,000 students from the continent –.

However, Russia’s military influence is capable of overturning the balance in certain cases, see Uganda (which also abstained in the vote), where high levels of the Army have supported the invasion, starting none other than Muhoozi Kainerugaba, commander of the Ground Forces and son of the president, Yoweri Museveni. “Most of humanity (non-white) supports Russia’s position in Ukraine,” the general said.

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