By Andrew Irumba
Russian president Vladmir Putin boasted this week that he signed military agreements with at least 30 African countries during the recently concluded Russia-Africa summit.
According to Russian press, Putin’s military agreements African countries were accompanied by deals for military helicopters, fighter jets, arms and armoured vehicles.
The two-day Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, which was the first ever to be held between the two powers, was attended by the leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries.
Putin also underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in the resource-rich continent and said that he hoped to increase cooperation with African nations to combat extremism by exchanging information between security agencies.
As a way of preying on their ever burning thirst for war, African visitors at the summit arriving at the expo centre were treated to an exhibition of Russian-made military hardware that included helicopters, fighter jets and armored vehicles as Putin touted military aid and economic projects.
Russia’s annual trade across Africa has doubled in the last five years to exceed USD20Bn (GBP15.5Bn) as African nations now account for 40 per cent of the exporter’s current orders.
Putin voiced confidence that it could double again ‘as a minimum’ in the next four or five years.
Russia is currently Africa’s largest arms supplier and following the summit Putin boasted that it now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations.
He said: ‘Russia has signed military-technical cooperation agreements with more that 30 countries, where we supply a large array of weaponry and hardware.” Part of these supplies are done on a free-of-charge basis,’ according to CNN.
Alexander Mikheev, director of Russia’s exports of defence-related products called Rosoboronexport, said: ‘We would like to expand our presence [in Africa], of course.’
Rosoboronexport officials were present at the summit to demonstrate some of Russia’s military goods.
One spoke to a potential buyer who identified himself as a South African doctor with a ‘personal interest’ in weapons. The man was allowed to handle a Kalashnikov and said: ‘It’s so light.’
He also explained that: ‘South Africa uses older models, if you want to keep the same ammunition they will be compatible with these new arms.’
It should be noted that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided generous economic and military aid to many African countries amid its global rivalry with the United States.
Russia’s annual trade across the continent has doubled in the last five years to exceed USD20Bn as African nations now account for 40 per cent of the exporter’s current orders.
Other Rosoboronexport representatives also sang the praises of facial recognition systems which Russian officials said were ‘the most precise in the world’ and could help secure borders, protect infrastructure and fight illegal trafficking.
This year alone, nine countries including Rwanda, Mozambique and Angola are set to receive Russian arms. Mikheev said that combat jets, gunships, Buk missile systems and S-300 surface-to-air missile systems accounted for 80 per cent of Africa’s purchases.
Russian Helicopters holding company praised ‘huge potential for cooperation’ as it showcased a modernised Mi-35 attack helicopter. In a statement the company said: ‘Over 900 helicopters made by Russian Helicopters’ enterprises are registered in African countries. ‘This is almost one in four helicopters on the continent.’
During the summit Ethiopia agreed to buy a Pantsir missile system but Rosoboronexport said no major arms sales were expected to be announced.
Russia is currently Africa’s largest arms supplier and following the summit Putin boasted that Russia now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations.
Moscow has in recent years struck a series of military agreements to provide military expertise and train soldiers in Africa.
On Wednesday, Central African leader Faustin-Archange Touadera asked Putin to extend military aid, while Namibian President Hage Geingob told the Kremlin chief his country was interested in Moscow’s military expertise. Mikheev said defence deals also lead to more business opportunities in non-military spheres such as infrastructure projects and geological exploration.
He said: ‘It’s very important to showcase Russia’s capabilities today, not just in the military sphere. It is hoped that defence deals also lead to more business opportunities in non-military spheres such as infrastructure projects and geological exploration. African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent.
However, observers say Moscow has been skillfully using a combination of arms exports and security expertise to expand its political and economic footprint in Africa.
Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: ‘Guns have opened many more doors for the Kremlin in Africa than butter.’
Nonetheless African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: ‘What stands Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power,’ according to his spokeswoman.
General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, said: ‘We hope that… you will help us, in particular, to build up our armed forces,’ according to a Kremlin account of his meeting with Putin.
He spoke in the wake of an August power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former President Omar al-Bashir.
Putin hailed the Russia-Africa summit as historic. He said he wanted to develop stronger ties with the continent after African nations emerged as ‘one of important pillars of the multi-polar world’. The president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, also agreed to renew a lapsed military cooperation agreement with Russia.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said that it is expected to lead to more direct procurement of military equipment.
Nigeria also said it would work with Russia to improve the efficiency of Abuja’s all-important oil sector by establishing a framework for a joint venture between Nigeria’s state-owned oil company and Russia’s Lukoil that will include prospecting for oil ‘deep offshore’.
The Russian President even offered to help mediate a growing water dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin addressed the contentious dam issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in separate meetings on the sidelines of the summit.
It was unclear whether either country accepted Putin’s mediation offer which the United States also extended in recent days after talks on the dam collapsed this month.
Some pro-government media outlets in Egypt have cast the USD5Bn (GBP3.9Bn) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a national security threat that could affect Egypt’s share of water from the Nile River and could warrant military action.
For his part, Abiy, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, declared that ‘no force’ could stop the dam’s construction.
El-Sissi and Abiy met on Thursday and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks ‘immediately’ to reach a ‘final proposal’ on filling and operating the dam. The statement made no mention of mediation offers or plans. Ethiopia, meanwhile, said the two African leaders met about ‘issues of common concern’ but did not elaborate.
In his closing speech, Putin said: ‘Summing up its results, we can immediately say that this event really opened a new page in relations between Russia and the states of the African continent.’
He went on to emphasise that developing stronger ties with the continent ranks among Russia’s top foreign policy priorities after African nations have emerged as ‘one of important pillars of the multi-polar world.’
It should be noted that Russia is currently still far behind the West and China in trade and investment in Africa but has capitalized on Soviet-era ties to widen its role in the continent’s affairs