President Vladimir Putin of Russia likes to defy his Western counterparts just to assert his country’s “preeminence”. This tactic has characterised Russia’s Foreign Policy since the Cold War era and has recently helped the former Soviet territory to position itself as a powerful force in the Middle East. Now, Putin is courting African Presidents, promising them a non-collateral economic help all in a bid to spite the USA, the EU, and others.
Currently, some 50 African Presidents (including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari) are in the Russian city of Sochi to meet with Putin in what is being called the Russia-Africa Summit. This is the first of a kind development between Russia and these African countries. And according to Putin, who organised it, the summit is aimed at offering Africa the kind of economic assistance it has never been offered.
“Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries, we are carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes… When doing so, we do not make our support and joint development projects which we offer contingent upon the fulfilment of political or any other preconditions or so-called ‘exclusive’, but in fact enslaving trade and economic preferences; we do not impose our views, respecting the principle of African solutions to African problems proposed by the Africans themselves.”
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Understanding Putin’s position: Western countries (particularly the United States of America and the United Kingdom) have always offered economic aids to Nigeria and other African countries. However, these often come with certain conditionalities; a situation that has often been frowned at by African scholars and thought leaders. To a large extent, this has limited Africa’s economic cooperation with the West.
The quest for Africa: Bloomberg quoted an official at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying that Russia is seeking to take advantage of “the power vacuums created by a lack of Western policy focus in recent years.”
It is also important to note China’s recent entry into the African continent has been met with criticism, with many fearing that its loan conditions are too stringent. All these factors have been considered by Russia which is now seeking to exploit them to its advantage.
Will Russia succeed? For now, it is uncertain whether Russia will succeed with this agenda. One thing that is however clear is that African countries (Nigeria to be specific) need economic assistance. These countries are also reluctant to accept economic assistance from countries that will attach stringent conditionalities or even start dictating to them. Therefore, going by Putin’s stance, Russia does seem to have what African leaders are looking for.