Russia's Quiet rise in Africa

JD Sun, 12/20/2015 - 17:12

A flurry of flashes and clicks erupted from the pool of press photographers while whispers of a new Cold War flooded the hallway outside. It was the 2007 Munich Security Conference, and after years of trying to court the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin had finally had enough. “We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law,” he said, in a speech that would become a defining moment of his presidency. “The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way.”

But while Putin’s declaration sent political analysts scrambling to figure out what all this meant for Russian-American relations, it turned out that Moscow was quietly in the middle of a equally important shift, courting a new and unlikely international partner: Africa. Indeed, in recent years, this unusual relationship has strengthened to a new level as Russian investments across Africa have grown at an astounding rate. Overall trade has increased more than tenfold over the past decade or so, with exports jumping from under $950 million to $4 billion, and imports from Africa rising from $350 million to $1.6 billion. For Russia to reclaim its role as a global power after long being seen as a “junior partner” by the West, “it needed to be present in all geographies — and, of course, Africa is an increasingly important one,” says Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, chief executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs, a research organization.

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