As the U.S. Disengages, Russia Ramps Up Aid and Arms Sales to Sub-Saharan Africa

As the U.S. Disengages, Russia Ramps Up Aid and Arms Sales to Sub-Saharan Africa
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, arrive at the commission’s offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 9, 2018 (AP photo by Mulugeta Ayene).

In early March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov embarked on a five-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa. During his trip, Lavrov signed new trade agreements with Russia’s two long-standing partners in southern Africa, Angola and Mozambique. He also strengthened Moscow’s diplomatic ties to Zimbabwe’s new government and highlighted the role Russia could play providing security to several countries facing political unrest at home.

Even though Russia’s power projection capabilities on the continent remain limited, the broad range of deals signed by Lavrov suggests that Russia is actively seeking to expand its economic and security influence in Africa, and perhaps reassert some great power status in a region that was integral to the Soviet Union’s “Third World” outreach. The fact that Lavrov’s trip coincided with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s own visit to several African countries seemed to expose the gap in American and Russian diplomacy today.

Tillerson’s trip was widely seen as an apology tour, after President Donald Trump had derided African nations as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting. When Tillerson cut his tour short and was then promptly fired, many African leaders saw it as another snub. There was no such controversy around any of Lavrov’s visits.

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