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Russia’s Charm Offensive in Africa Concludes by Tristan Vanheuckelom

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Russia’s Charm Offensive in Africa Concludes

A war for the African continent’s heart and mind is raging. Russia’s asset in this war is foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who on Wednesday wrapped up a high-profile, four-nation trip there. Ties with regional partners were strengthened, while Russia sought to draw others into its ambit, away from that of the West.

Emboldened by many African countries’ refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN General Assembly in March, Moscow is seizing its chance. Now it wants more from them than a mere refusal to pick either side of the geopolitical fence; in order to weaken and isolate the West, it seeks to rupture ties between it and Africa, making Russia a primary partner instead.

To this end, Lavrov made full use of his last stop, in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa, to lash out at Western countries. Ethiopia, a major U.S. and UK ally in the Horn of Africa, is combating drought while suffering its usual host of issues, such as war and lack of access to health care. Russia’s military activities in Ukraine, causing a global surge in food prices, have made Ethiopia’s pain even more acute. An approximate 30 million Ethiopians are currently in need of aid. 

An earlier April 10th report, drawn up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, projected that wheat and corn production could reach record levels in 2022/2023. Yet, that same report fears that ethnic strife, extending “from Tigray down to Amhara and Afar has made farming activities very challenging.” 

The new U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, is expected to have arrived in Ethiopia Wednesday, where the U.S. is supporting efforts to mediate between the federal government and rebels from the northern Tigray region.

While the U.S. has pledged an additional half billion dollars to bolster Ethiopia’s food security, Lavrov instead focused on denying accusations that Russia is to blame for the continuing food crisis. He said that prices were already rising, well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ‘green policies’ implemented by the West. 

He also claimed that any additional increases in grain prices were the result of American and European sanctions on Russia.“I know that the Western media presents the situation in a totally distorted manner, if only to mention the food crisis, so-called food crisis, as if nothing was of concern before February this year,” he said.

Lavrov also alleged on Wednesday that the sanctioning of Russia points to a wish, on the U.S.’ part, to return to a ‘colonial’ world order. “The West created a system which was based on certain principles: a free market, fair competition, sanctity of private property, presumption of innocence, something else,” he said. “All these principles have been thrown down the drain when they need to do what they believe is [necessary] to punish Russia.”

While in Addis, Lavrov met with its foreign minister, Demeke Mekonnen. The pair agreed to strengthen cooperation and economic ties, according to Walta.

Before Ethiopia, Lavrov’s itinerary included Egypt, Uganda, and the Republic of Congo. He sought to assure these countries that grain exports through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will resume, blaming their blockage on the West. While in Egypt, his first stop, he even went as far as to say that it is Moscow’s new aim to topple Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government—a revision from Russia’s earlier position which expressed intent to work with the current regime towards an agreement.

Among EU bureaucrats meanwhile, much of Africa’s non-committal attitude is increasingly worrisome. A five-page document, overseen by Birgitte Markussen, head of the EU delegation to the African Union (AU), and which was circulated to diplomats in Brussels this week, indicates there is a growing fear that the bloc is losing Africa’s favor over Ukraine.

The report states that the EU is at a “critical juncture” to improve its public and private messaging on the war, and that the Sochi meeting in early June between Moscow and the African Union was part of “a trend which seems to indicate that the AU and its Member States may be drifting further away from our position.” It went on to say that “the EU’s reputation as being a mediator, a peacemaker, is eroding due to the Union’s military assistance to Ukraine,” and that “in Africa, the EU is seen as fuelling the conflict, not as a peace facilitator.” 

It goes on to propose that the EU’s outreach to the AU and its member states on the consequences of the Ukraine war should be more “targeted, audible, effective,” and that “lecturing should be ‘banned’.”

Just as Lavrov was leaving Ethiopia for Uzbekistan, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova made an announcement on her Telegram. “We are leaving the African continent under a heavy rain and this is a good sign,” she wrote, adding: “Thank you, friends, and we are waiting for you in Saint Petersburg next year at the Russia-Africa summit.”

Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.