The head of Russian diplomacy on tour to reassure and care for his African colleagues

The tour of Africa led by the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov – more than 13,000 kilometers in five days – looks like a charm offensive. Facing a continent threatened by many “serious food crisis” this decade, according to the UN, Russia is trying to reassure its African partners.

“Russian grain exporters will fulfill all obligations”, he insisted, from Saturday July 23, in Cairo, Egypt, the first stage of his journey. On the same day, the Russian army bombed the Ukrainian port of Odessa, despite the agreement concluded the previous day between kyiv, Moscow and Turkey. The text, signed in Istanbul, under the aegis of the UN, should allow the movement, through safe corridors, of 20 to 25 million tons of grain blocked in Ukraine for six months and to facilitate the export of Russian agriculture.

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According to Mr. Lavrov, the Russian strikes were only aimed at military infrastructure, “a significant distance from the cereal terminal”he assured on Monday, after an interview with Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of Congo, where he went after his visit to Egypt.

For African countries, the stakes are significant. Egypt, which imports 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, fears food riots. Elsewhere, dependence on these grains varies, but rising food and energy prices put millions of households on the continent at risk.

“A temporary respite”

At the beginning of June, the Senegalese Head of State, Macky Sall, current President of the African Union (AU) and Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the AU Commission, went to Sochi, Russia, to remind Vladimir Putin that African countries “victims” in the crisis and demand the continuation of the transportation of grains and fertilizers.

“The delivery of stocks will reduce food prices and comfort African households, but it remains a temporary respite, because the conflict is protracted. But, even more than wheat, access of fertilizers, where the possibilities of replacement are almost non-existent now, as the most urgent.believes Gilles Yabi, the founder of the Wathi group, based in Dakar.

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Russian fertilizers are subject to an embargo pending an agreement with Ukraine. However, without access to these fertilizers, on which they are highly dependent, West African countries could record a deficit of 20 million tons of grains for the 2022 harvest. .

Sergei Lavrov’s tour is also part of the communication strategy led by Moscow, which has presented itself for several years as an alternative to Western countries. “Russia is now seizing the opportunity to surf the pro-Russian sympathies of many African states hiding behind an alleged non-alignment”, describes Paul-Simon Handy, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. On March 2, at the UN, seventeen African countries abstained during the vote on a resolution to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. “However, this sympathy stems more from mistrust of the West than from genuine support for a project backed by Putin”said the expert.

“Russia has no choice”

Russian power is still seeking to capitalize on what it considers a diplomatic victory. ” Despite external pressure on an unprecedented scale, our friends do not support sanctions against Russia. This independent line deserves a lot of respect “, welcomed Sergei Lavrov in a column published in Brazzaville is shipping, the only daily newspaper in the Republic of Congo, before its tour. The Russian emissary also castigated ” Western and Ukrainian propaganda, claiming that Russia is “exporting hunger”” and boasts that Russia “no”[ait] its reputation was not tarnished by the bloody crimes of colonialism”.

In the Republic of Congo, a Russian company is working on the construction of a major pipeline that will bring oil from the city of Pointe-Noire to the north of the country.

Now in the field of security in Mali and the Central African Republic in particular, Russia is trying to expand its reach in other regions and sectors to increase its influence in Africa. Egypt entrusted the construction of a power plant with four reactors to the Russian state-owned atomic energy company Rosatom. In the Republic of Congo, a Russian company is working on the construction of a major pipeline that should bring oil from the city of Pointe-Noire to the north of the country.

“Russia has no choice. Faced with the punishments imposed on him, he must find new partners. Its message to Westerners is clear: from now on, its commitment to Africa is no longer cosmetic, as it was ten years ago, but it is a sustainable part of its foreign policy strategy., analyzes Paul-Simon Handy. After Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville, Sergei Lavrov will go to Uganda, then to Ethiopia, the country that hosts the AU headquarters. Steps away from nothing. “These countries are historical allies of Russia, whose leaders do not consider human rights and democracy as priorities”said Gilles Yabi.

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Sergey Lavrov also announced the holding of a Russia-Africa summit in 2023, on the model of the first edition in 2019, which brought together, in Sochi, about forty African leaders and a thousand businessmen . Emmanuel Macron also toured until July 28 in Cameroon, Benin, then Guinea-Bissau, against a backdrop of the fight against terrorism and food insecurity.

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