Russia is building its military influence in Africa, challenging U.S. and French dominance

Russia is challenging the status quo in Africa, using insecurity and diplomatic disputes with Western powers as a springboard to expand its presence on the continent.

From Libya to Nigeria, Ethiopia to Mali, Moscow has been building key strategic military alliances and an increasingly favorable public profile across Africa in recent years.

Central to this effort is offering alternatives to countries that have grown disgruntled with Western diplomatic partnerships.

The second Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled for 2022. At the inaugural summit in Sochi in 2019, President Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia was “not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa.”

Via the U.N., Russia has also provided aid in the form food and medical assistance alongside its growing commercial, economic and military support across the continent.

Russia’s bilateral push
In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s two most populous nations.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Africa accounted for 18% of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020.

Russian mercenaries have also provided direct assistance to governments in Libya and the Central African Republic, according to the U.N. However, the Kremlin has denied links to the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization alleged by the U.N. to be aiding human rights abuses in the region.

“A group of Russian instructors was sent to the CAR at the request of its leaders and with the knowledge of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on the CAR established by Resolution 2127,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said in July. “Indicatively, none of them has taken part in combat operations.”

Reuters reported in July that U.S. lawmakers had stalled a planned $1 billion weapons sale to Nigeria over allegations of human rights abuses by the government.

Less than a month later, Russia signed a deal with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to supply military equipment, training and technology to Nigerian forces.

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