Russia is activating new directions of foreign policy
By Fatima Davis
On July 27-28, the Second Russia-Africa Summit was held in St. Petersburg.
Almost on the same days, the delegation led by Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Ministry of Defense visited Pyongyang to participate in the 1950-53 events organized on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation war.
Russian media reported that representatives from almost all African countries participated in the 2nd Summit. However, during the first Summit held in October 2019, 45 out of 54 African states were represented at the level of heads of state. In contrast, at the second Summit, only 17 African countries were represented at the head-of-state level, with the rest sending ministers, advisers, and other government officials.
Both events garnered extensive coverage in Russian media and reported that representatives from almost all African countries participated in the 2nd Summit. However, during the first Summit held in October 2019, 45 out of 54 African states were represented at the level of heads of state. In contrast, at the second summit, the representatives of 49 African countries were present. Only 17 African countries were represented at the head of state level, with the rest sending ministers, advisers, and other government officials. This reduced level of participation from African countries was a matter of concern for Russia, with the spokesperson of the Russian President, D. Peskov, attributing it to the active influence of the USA, France, and other countries.
Maxim Matusevich, a professor at Seton Hall University in the USA, believes that the actual Western influence on the majority of African countries is not very significant. Nonetheless, Russia may soon use this perceived Western influence to explain its challenges on the African continent.
Apart from political efforts, Russia's influence in Africa is bolstered by tens of thousands of African students educated in Russia, some of whom occupy high positions in various African countries. According to the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, currently, 34,000 students from almost all African countries study in Russian higher education institutions, and this number tends to increase. Russia is also developing a network of branches of its higher educational institutions on the African continent. The Russian-African network university, the creation of which was announced within the framework of the Summit, will serve that purpose.
Russia's historical ties dating back to Soviet times and the growing presence of the private military organization "Wagner" are also contributing factors to Russia's influence in Africa. The Central African Republic is a notable example where "Wagner" even provides personal security for the country's President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, Russia has gained some influence in the Central African Republic through the Russian Orthodox Church, which has seen a prominent role in replacing the Catholic Church.
During the Second Russia-Africa Summit, there were reports of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of "Wagner," being present in St. Petersburg. His photo was displayed on the website of "the Russian House" of the Central African Republic. According to Alexei Venediktov, the former editor-in-chief of the prestigious
Russian radio station "Echo of Moscow," Yev. Prigozhin's appearance at the Summit aimed to demonstrate to African leaders that "Wagner" remains part of the Russian state structure.
There have been reports in the Western press regarding the purchase of artillery shells by Russia from North Korea in 2022 and, more recently, information about the supply of North Korean ammunition to "Wagner." While Russia and North Korea had previously denied such reports, during S. Shoigu's visit, announcements were made about expanding military-technical cooperation. Experts speculate that Russia might also show interest in North Korean surveillance and attack drones, showcased during the "Military Technology 2023" exhibition.
In addition to the Summit, the Russian media extensively covered the visit of the Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu to Pyongyang. The purpose of this visit was to strengthen military cooperation with North Korea and foster better relations between the two countries. According to the estimates of Fyodor Tertytsky, a senior researcher at Kunming University in Seoul, Russia needs artillery shells, and North Korea needs humanitarian aid. Still, in 2022, there were publications in the Western press about the purchase of artillery shells by the Russian Federation from North Korea, and more recently, information was published about the supply of North Korean ammunition to "Wagner". While both Russia and North Korea had previously denied such reports, during S. Shoigu's visit, announcements were made about the expansion of the military technical cooperation. In the opinion of Vladimir Khrustalev, an expert on North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, the work on drones is also promising.
North Korean surveillance and attack drones were showcased during the "Military Technology 2023" exhibition, and it is not excluded that Russia will also show interest in them.