Russia/Ukraine: How the war drums in Europe will echo in Africa

By Patrick Smith

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Posted on February 22, 2022 17:14

Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin waves during a family photo with heads of countries taking part in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, October 24, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS

The longest shadow over Africa’s disappointing summit with the European Union on 17-18 February was cast by the war drums – this time on Europe’s eastern flank. Russia’s despatch of troops into Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, after formally recognising their independence on 21 February, further ratchets up the crisis and its capacity to disrupt the global system.

It will reverberate across Africa’s economies and political systems. Some countries will face tricky diplomatic trade-offs, some will strive to stay neutral while energy and mineral exporters could cash on a price boom.

The long brewing crisis in Ukraine marks another triumph of geopolitics over globalisation. It is both a replay of a 19th century theme and a precursor to a multi-polar world order.

The playbook runs like this: a strong and resource-rich state, nursing historic grievances against western Europe and the US, wants to regain its great power status. It jealously guards its control over its land and maritime borders, arguing these are crucial to its security. It regards its “near abroad” as its sphere of influence.

On the main stage, it applies to Russia and China but in very different ways. China has regained its great power status. It is the second biggest economy in the world, by some measures the biggest. But it seeks the diplomatic and geopolitical heft to counter US hegemony in the world system.

Russia, is the eleventh biggest economy, behind Italy and South Korea. But it is the third biggest oil producer in the world and has one of the most sophisticated high-tech military industrial complexes.

Gains and losses for Africa in the geopolitical turmoil

Some governments see a return to the Cold War when canny African diplomats could play off Washington against Moscow.

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