Sergey Lavrov begins diplomatic tour of Africa to strengthen ties with the continent

Ahead of the trip, the Russian foreign minister assured that partnership with Africa remains "one of Moscow's top priorities"
AFP/ MAXIM SHEMETOV  -   El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores ruso, Sergei Lavrov, asiste a una rueda de prensa conjunta con su homólogo turco tras sus conversaciones en Moscú el 16 de marzo de 2022

AFP/ MAXIM SHEMETOV  -   Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov begins his trip to Africa with the aim of boosting cooperation with the continent amid the war in Ukraine and the confrontation with the West. As announced by the ministry's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, Lavrov's trip will last from 24 to 27 July and he will travel to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.

The head of Russian diplomacy is due to arrive in Cairo today, the first stop on his African tour. In the Egyptian capital, he will meet with senior officials of the government of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, a key ally of the United States in the region, particularly on counter-terrorism issues. However, relations between Washington and Cairo have seen ups and downs in recent years, and Russia has played a role in this. Former US president Donald Trump's good relationship with Al-Sisi was strained after the latter bought Russian fighter jets. In retaliation, the Republican suspended military assistance to Egypt.

sameh Shoukry y Serguei Lavrov en Moscú
PHOTO/FILE - Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Foreign Minister, and Sergei Lavrov in Moscow

This situation, coupled with current president Joe Biden's decision to keep aid frozen, has led Egypt to purchase weapons from other countries. According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Cairo has increased arms trade with other countries such as France, Italy, Germany and, of course, Russia.

With Moscow it has developed cooperation in other sectors, such as economics and trade. The country of the Pharaohs is also a favourite tourist destination for Russian citizens, especially along the Red Sea coast. Russia's state-owned energy corporation, Rosatom, began construction of Egypt's first nuclear power plant this week. According to Reuters, this is the largest Russian-Egyptian project since the Aswan High Dam was completed in 1970.

PHOTO/SPUTNIK/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/KREMLIN vía REUTERS  -   El presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, y el presidente de Egipto, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, se dan la mano durante su reunión en el complejo turístico del Mar Negro de Sochi, Rusia, el 17 de octubre de 2018
PHOTO/SPUTNIK/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/KREMLIN vía REUTERS - Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shake hands during their meeting at the Black Sea resort in Sochi, Russia, on October 17, 2018

But Lavrov will not only meet with Egyptian officials in Cairo. Taking advantage of the fact that the city is the headquarters of the Arab League, the Russian minister will hold talks with members of the pan-Arab organisation. The visit has raised concerns in the West, with Western officials asking the Egyptian government and the Arab League ahead of Lavrov's trip not to "get involved in the Russian version of events in Ukraine", diplomats told Reuters.

For the moment, Egypt is still positioning itself close to the West. According to reports, Cairo has rejected at least one shipment of Ukrainian grain stolen by Russia. However, Al-Sisi's government perceives that the world is becoming "more and more multipolar and does not want to limit itself to a relationship that prioritises the West above all else", H.A. Hellyer, a British analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, told the news agency.

AFP/ KHALED DESOUKI  -   El presidente egipcio Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
AFP/ KHALED DESOUKI - Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Ethiopia and Uganda, for their part, have recently distanced themselves from the West. Following the outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region in 2020, the European Union suspended budget support to Addis Ababa and the United States froze a trade agreement. The same has happened with oil-rich Uganda. Its relations with Western countries have cooled over alleged human rights violations by security forces and corruption, according to Reuters.

Russia seeks to fill the vacuum left by the West in Africa

For years, Russia has been trying to expand its influence in Africa and position itself as a reliable partner for African countries. "The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains one of the main priorities of Russia's foreign policy. We are ready to contribute to its further growth," Lavrov said, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

vladimir putin
PHOTO/FILE - Africa is a top priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ahead of his trip, the foreign minister stressed in a statement that "political, humanitarian, trade and investment ties between Russia and Africa do not depend on the changing world situation". He also assured that Moscow would continue to "faithfully fulfil its obligations to export food, fertilisers, energy and other essential goods to Africa on the basis of its international contracts".

Russia, like China - which has been accused of 'neo-colonialism' - is taking advantage of African countries' distrust of the West because of their colonial past. In this respect, Lavrov has stressed ahead of his trip to Africa that Russia 'does not impose anything on anyone or tell others how to live', according to TASS.

AFP/SERGEI CHIRIKOV  -   El ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Rusia, Sergei Lavrov (I) y el presidente de la Comisión de la Unión Africana, Moussa Faki Mahamat (D), durante la Cumbre Rusia-África 2019
AFP/SERGEI CHIRIKOV - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat (R) during the Russia-Africa Summit 2019.

"We treat with great respect the sovereignty of African states and their inalienable right to determine for themselves the path of their development. We are firmly committed to the principle of 'African solutions to African problems'," he added. The Russian minister also spoke of the "master-slave system imposed by the former metropolitan countries" and the "obsolete colonial model". This rhetoric has especially triumphed in the Sahel, where, capitalising on growing anti-French sentiment, Moscow is emerging as a strong and reliable ally amid insecurity and the rise of terrorism.

PHOTO/AP  -   Malienses se manifiestan contra Francia y en apoyo de Rusia en el 60º aniversario de la independencia de la República de Malí en 1960, en Bamako, Malí, el 22 de septiembre de 2020. La pancarta en francés dice: "Putin, el camino hacia el futuro"
PHOTO/AP - Malians demonstrate against France and in support of Russia on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Mali in 1960, in Bamako, Mali, September 22, 2020. The banner in French reads: "Putin, the road to the future".

The first Russia-Africa summit was held in Sochi in 2019 under the theme "For peace, security and development". On the eve of Lavrov's trip to the continent, the foreign ministry has announced that Russia and African countries have started working on the agenda of the second summit to be held in 2023.