Thu. 9:20 a.m.: Putin courts Africa and offers to mediate dam dispute
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin today sought to expand Moscow’s clout in Africa by touting military aid and economic projects at the first-ever Russia-Africa summit and even offered to help mediate a growing dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin addressed the issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in separate meetings on the sidelines of the two-day summit attended by leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries.
Peskov didn’t say whether Egypt and Ethiopia accepted the mediation offer, which the United States has extended in recent days as well.
Some pro-government media in Egypt have cast the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and how it will affect Egypt’s share of Nile river water as a national security threat that could warrant military action. Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader this week declared that “no force” could stop the dam’s construction.
Ethiopia said Abiy and el-Sissi met today about “issues of common concern” but didn’t provide details.
The summit in Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa, while heads of state roamed through an expo center displaying military hardware.
Putin emphasized that developing stronger ties with the continent ranks among Russia’s top foreign policy priorities, noting that African nations have emerged as “one of important pillars of the multi-polar world.”
Russia’s annual trade with African nations doubled in the last five years to exceed $20 billion and Putin voiced confidence that it could double again “as a minimum” in the next four or five years.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided generous economic and military aid to many African countries amid global rivalry with the United States. Moscow’s influence withered after the 1991 Soviet collapse and Russia is still far behind the West and China in trade and investment in Africa, but it has capitalized on Soviet-era ties to widen its role in the continent’s affairs.
The Russian president emphasized today that Russia and African nations should expand their cooperation in combating extremism, including exchange of information between security agencies.
Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier, and Putin noted that Russia now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations. He added that Moscow could expand training of military and security personnel from African nations.
“We hope that … you will help us, in particular, to build up our armed forces,” said Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, 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.
The president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, agreed to renew a lapsed military cooperation agreement with Russia which is expected to lead to more direct procurement of military equipment, President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said.
Nigeria also said it and Russia would work 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 countries also agreed to solidify the venture between the NNPC and Russian gas giant Gazprom.
Other African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent.
“What stands Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, according to his spokeswoman. He spoke shortly after a pair of Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in his country on an unprecedented visit to the continent, reflecting Moscow’s new push for clout.