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President Vladimir Putin is hosting dozens of African leaders for the first Russia-Africa Summit, as Moscow seeks greater influence on a continent where the West and China have a firm foothold. AFP reported on Wednesday, October 23rd.
All 54 African states and more than 3,000 delegates were represented at the first summit which was held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, with Putin meeting leaders for bilateral talks from nuclear technology to mineral extraction throughout the two-day event.
President Putin aims to revive Russia’s influence in Africa, saying that trade between Russia and Africa has more than doubled in the past five years to more than $20 billion, adding that some consider this “a good figure”.
“I cannot agree,” he said. “In Africa there are very many potential partners with good prospects and huge growth potential. Of course, this is not enough.”
The high-profile summit is a culmination of diplomatic efforts over the past several years meant to boost Russia’s presence in the region. Moscow was a crucial player in Africa in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ties with Africa declined and in recent years China has emerged as a top foreign power on the continent, forcing Russia to play catch-up.
The summit is in many ways borrowing from China’s playbook. To expand its influence, Beijing in 2000 launched the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and has poured tens of billions of dollars into the continent.
However, Russia cannot match China’s economic might. Like Beijing, it is prepared to support African leaders with controversial rights records in exchange for access to the continent’s riches.
Putin has scheduled 13 bilateral meetings with African leaders in a bid to further extend the Kremlin’s influence.
The summit is co-chaired by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who holds the rotating presidency of the 55-nation African Union (AU), and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Al-Sisi has called on Russian and international firms to invest in Africa, stressing that this is the “ideal time” for economic openness to the continent.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, among the first to meet with Putin at the summit, praised Russia’s “whole effort of strengthening its relationship with the African continent”.
Putin also met Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, congratulating him on his recent Nobel Peace Prize. The Ethiopian PM is set to meet Egyptian President al-Sisi on the side-lines of the event to discuss a dam under construction on the Nile River that Cairo fears would cut its share of vital water.
The Russian president also heard a request from Central African leader Faustin-Archange Touadera to extend military aid and help to overturn an international arms embargo.
Ivory Coast, which has had little interaction with Russia, was set to send a delegation of 70 people including its president with a view to signing a possible military cooperation agreement.
Putin has promised cooperation without “political or other” interference, at a time when some in Africa are starting to express concern about states’ dependence on China.
“Russia is not the Soviet Union, it lacks the resources, the ideology and the appeal of its predecessor,” said Paul Stronsky of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
Several trades, economic, and investment agreements are expected to be signed after the forum concludes.
Besides boosting political and economic cooperation, the summit is planned to lay out measures to fight terrorism, cross-border crime, and threats to regional and global security.
A joint document will be adopted following its conclusion, according to the summit’s official website.
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