A report by the Center for Defense Reforms, entitled “Russian Presence in Africa: Forms, Means and Opportunities for Counteraction,” penned by Maksym Rozumnyi, Doctor of Political Science, was presented in Kyiv on Thursday.
The report says the Kremlin’s main priority is to gain access to the power centers, which is achieved by establishing control over a targeted country’s political leadership. The benefit into which the Russians transform their influence can be political (votes at UNGA sessions), geopolitical (support in competition with the U.S. and Europe), but most often material – mining and large-scale infrastructure projects, Guildhall reports.
Since the niche of African transport infrastructure has become China’s main focus, Russian companies are expanding into the energy sector, closely linking projects to the Kremlin’s political agenda and corruption-related opportunities in each particular country. The author cites examples of Russian energy companies’ unsuccessful projects in South Africa, whose ex-president Jacob Zuma has been accused of receiving remuneration from Russians for signing the deal.
The organizations run by Yevgeny Prigozhin play a key role in expanding Russian influence in Africa. They have formed a network that includes groups of consultants, analysts, political strategists, and covert operations professionals. Force support is provided by the so-called Wagner PMC, which is just a cover for the Russian special agencies. Prigozhin is entrusted with the most delicate missions pursued by Russian foreign policy, aiming to bring the governments and presidents of the targeted nations under Russian influence. Prigozhin’s organizations are believed to have operated in at least 13 African countries.
As follows from the report, Prigozhin’s network is only part of the resource that the Russian Federation is deploying to strengthen its presence in Africa. The Kremlin employs hundreds of lobbyists in most African nations to consult politicians and train rebels. Russians are focusing on South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Zambia, Libya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, and Mali.
In the context of the image crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has stepped up its ties with Africa to maintain the reputation of a “reliable partner” and demonstrate the development of relations with the global South in the face of confrontation with the West. Russian diplomacy exploits anti-Western sentiments in Africa, positioning itself as the main opponent of the West, which can represent, among other things, the interests of African peoples.
Russian embassies in African countries are actively engaged in propaganda efforts, trying to shift onto the Western powers Moscow’s guilt for the threat of global famine caused by the invasion of Ukraine. The report describes examples where visits of Russian delegations to African countries and information operations aimed at reducing support for Ukraine are used for propaganda purposes.
The perception of Russia as the heir to the USSR, which provided support to many African states during the confrontation between the blocs, together with resentment against Western nations over their colonial past, creates an ideological context that is beneficial for the Kremlin, allowing it to effectively spread its influence. The advantages of the Russian strategy include its flexible nature, promptness of decision-making, availability of shadow resources, and the absence of constraining factors such as morality, democratic control, and political responsibility. This type of activity meets the expectations and psychological attitudes of the African partners.
The author of the report suggests a number of areas for informational counteraction to Russian expansion, the work on which will allow altering the perception of Russia on the African continent. In addition, Western powers should offer an attractive alternative to the Russian presence, which will be based on investment in the economy and social capital, the integration of representatives of African countries into international communities, educational programs, and university exchange campaigns.
As measures to directly limit Russian presence in Africa, it is proposed to expose the subversive efforts of Russian embassies, launch criminal inquiries targeting Russian agents, limit the resource base of Russian interference, and block Russia’s information expansion. A separate emphasis is placed on the need to limit Russia’s military and military-technical cooperation with African nations.