African leaders are to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg at the end of this month for a summit, billed as strengthening cooperation in peace, security, and development.
But the second Russia-Africa Summit comes as Moscow continues to wage war against Ukraine. Russia’s invasion has led to higher food and oil prices for many African nations – and prices could rise further after Russia this week pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a U.N.-brokered deal that allowed Ukrainian food exports to reach international markets.
International summits involve an element of political theater, analysts say, and African attendance will be a measure of success for the St. Peterburg gathering, according to Steven Gruzd, who leads the Africa-Russia project at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.
“I think there will be a lot of focus on who attends ... and last time in 2019, when the world looked very different before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there were 43 African heads of state that went to Sochi [Russia] for the 2019 summit,” Gruzd told VOA.
Mvemba Dizolele, who directs the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said this will be a high-stakes discussion.
“They [Russia] are under a lot of pressure with what’s happening in Ukraine and the ramifications of the conflict there in terms of commodity prices, particularly for Africans — and also what’s happening with Wagner and so on — so this an opportunity for Russia to try to assert its place on the global stage as well,” Dizolele told VOA.
Trade likely will be discussed.
“I think there would be talk about trade ... Russia’s trade with Africa is really negligible. China and the EU are by far much bigger trading partners with Africa,” Gruzd noted.
Russia is also looking to get around sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
“No African countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, so it’s a lucrative market,” said Gruzd. "We saw a similar pattern after the invasion of Georgia in 2008, and the first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, as Western markets closed to Russia business, they sought markets elsewhere and of course Africa, Latin America, Asia were areas where they did seek to expand.”
The U.N. General Assembly in February passed a resolution demanding that Russia end the war and leave Ukrainian territory. While 141 countries voted in favor, two African countries voted against it and 15 abstained.
“Russia benefited from that in the sense that it showed them they have some friends,” Dizolele said. “It’s simply an awakening on the African part. They are particularly sending a message to the rest of the world, ‘we also have our own foreign policies, and those reflect our national interest.’”
He said the reality is that every country has done what it needed to do.
“The French president went to Russia and tried to negotiate something that was very different than what the Americans were trying to negotiate. We see various leaders of Europe ... go to Russia. Italy did not have the same position and France didn’t have the same position as Germany. It’s totally normal that people have different positions. All that is based on their interest. I think we need to accept that of Africans,” Dizolele said.
The United States, Turkey, China, France, and other countries have convened similar summits of African leaders. Dizolele said the optics of one country summoning the leaders of an entire continent undermines Africa’s efforts to assert itself on the global stage.
“Africa is a big place. Africa is a critical component and critical member of the global community. It has a lot to offer from ... natural resources, mineral resources but most importantly the youth. It’s the youngest continent with the median age of 19,” he said.
“So, if that’s the case, it’s important that Africans start demanding that people come to them. You can’t be important and going to everyone all the time, it reduces your value,” he notes.