Russia: FM Lavrov begins across Africa tour to sweeten leaders

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Monday, 25 July 2022 16:18

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry attend a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, July 24, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Congo-Brazzaville this week as part of Moscow's new diplomatic efforts to win over the continent. 

Lavrov will also be visiting Egypt, Uganda, and Ethiopia as he engages in face-to-face talks with African leaders in an attempt to bolster support for Russia on the international stage.

The minister’s travels are in preparation for the second Russia-Africa summit, which will be held in Addis Ababa in October, as Russia attempts to solidify its position as an ally in Ethiopia’s post-civil war future. Although Russia is not a significant economic partner to Ethiopia, it has a political sway in the country due to its continued support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the government as part of the Tigray conflict.

Today, Lavrov will also be in Uganda, holding bilateral talks with President Yoweri Museveni. At the last summit held in Sochi in 2018, Museveni supported the country’s links to Russia as it supports Kampala’s military policies. He said Uganda was “building an army by buying good Russian equipment, aircraft, tanks, and so on.”

On Sunday, Lavrov held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. He also visited the headquarters of the Arab League and met with Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

In a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the meeting was successful: “During their conversation, Sergey Lavrov and Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed satisfaction with the high level of interaction between Russia and the Arab League in the interests of resolving crises in the Middle East and North Africa and strengthening regional security and stability.”

The Russian diplomat used his speech at the Arab League to continue to defend the country’s actions as he suggested the West pushed his country to invade Ukraine and criticised NATO’s expansion eastward.

Global bottleneck

Russia has faced intense backlash from the international community for their invasion of Ukraine. Lavrov made several statements blaming Ukraine for the failure of peace talks between the two countries.

Across the continent, most countries face famine and high levels of food insecurity as Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports continue.

On Sunday, Lavrov assured Cairo of Russian grain supplies amid tension over a deal to resume Ukrainian exports from the Black Sea.

Egypt has historically relied on both countries to bolster their grain supplies – 80% of grain imports last year came from Russia and Ukraine. Russia has continued to supply Egypt with wheat since the war’s outbreak in February, selling to both the government and the private sector.

“We reaffirmed the commitment of Russian grain exporters to meet all their commitments,” Lavrov said in a press conference with Shoukry.

Beyond the sea

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN signed a deal on Friday to restart Ukrainian wheat exports by the Black Sea, however, a Russian strike in Odessa on Saturday has generated concern about the agreement’s success.

The African Union (AU) supports the agreement. In a statement on Saturday, the AU said: “The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomes the signing by Russia and Ukraine of agreements,” praising Senegalese President and AU chair Macky Sall “for having called for the urgent need for the resumption of cereals from Ukraine and Russia to global markets as made to President Vladimir Putin during a joint AU mission to Sochi” in early June.

Many  African countries may face diplomatic deadlock as they struggle to navigate their relationship with Russia and the West.

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