The Russia-Africa summit held in St. Petersburg received considerable attention in the past week as Moscow sought to win hearts and minds on the African continent.

Anti-Western rhetoric, unsurprisingly, featured heavily in the key narratives.

17 African leaders attended this session compared with 43 at the 2019 summit in Sochi, a fact Russian presidential adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said was due to Western pressure on leaders to decline the invitation.

The central discourse in much Russian-state media has been the Western colonial past in African countries, and its damaging legacy, which has been set against Russian attempts to build a multipolar and thus more equal world system, with African countries as real partners.

Steve Rosenberg of BBC News, in his analysis ahead of the summit, reviewed Russian newspapers, including Izvestia, a fiercely pro-Kremlin broadsheet that published an opinion piece by Petr Tolstoi, the deputy Duma chairman, claiming “Western countries can’t seem to cure themselves of their colonial mentality which has developed over centuries.”

Rosenberg concluded that one should “expect to hear Russian officials making this accusation a lot over the next two days because they know it plays well in parts of Africa.”

The concept of equal multipolarity is supported by many African leaders. In his opening remarks to the summit, Azali Assoumani, president of Comoros and head of the African Union, said: “The multipolar world of the 21st century cannot close on itself. That is why Africa wants to have a fair and mutually beneficial partnership with the whole world. It is obvious to us that Russia has a special place in partnership with us, and we are ready to work all over the world.”

If this means a reduced partnership with the West, what can Russia offer Africa? Moscow aims to build relations that either carry importance for the whole continent, at a bilateral level, or at a multinational level through organizations, such as the African Union.

Food security is paramount for all of Africa, especially after Russia ended its participation in the Black Sea grain deal. The Russian government’s decision to offer free grain to six countries — Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Eritrea — is a strategic move to win hearts and minds on the continent.

At a bilateral level, technology needs were among the strategic collaborations discussed. For example, Russia is ready to share with Africa its developed technologies in the field of extraction and sale of precious metals, according to Yulia Goncharenko, director of the Department of State Regulation of the Precious Metals and Precious Stones Industry of the Ministry of Finance.

Russia is also interested in further cooperation with African countries in the energy sector. Over many years, Soviet and Russian specialists have designed and built large energy centers in Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia and other countries on the continent, with a total capacity of 4.6 gigawatts, a quarter of Africa’s hydropower capacity.

More than 30 promising energy projects with Russian participation in 16 African states are now in varying stages of development. Russian companies Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, and Zarubezhneft have been engaged in the development of oil and gas fields in Algeria, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo.

The impact of the Ukraine war also brings Russia closer to Africa in several economic and financial fields. Among the key discussions at the summit was the use of national currencies in trade deals, including the Russian ruble.

In this regard, the New Development Bank, formerly known as the Brics Development Bank — which now includes Egypt, Bangladesh and the UAE, as well as regional development banks — supports the development initiatives of developing countries on all continents.

Agreements have been made on the use of national currencies in trade transactions. “This is a strategic tool in finding a balance of power, and building a more just world and a new multipolar and multilateral world order,” Dilma Rousseff, the former Brazilian president and current head of the New Development Bank, said.

Another strategic direction shaped by geopolitics is Russia’s engagement in the reorientation of transport and logistics flows toward the states of the global south, including Africa.

The International North-South Transport Corridor aims to provide access to areas ranging from the Gulf to the Indian Ocean, allowing Russian goods to reach Africa by the shortest sea route. Naturally, this corridor can also be used to supply African goods to the Russian market.

Finally, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was spotted at the summit, which brings into view the question of security and Russia-Africa military relations.

Before the summit, the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta commented that “Wagner’s chief spheres of influence outside Syria and Ukraine are Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali,” and added that “Wagner’s military resources in Africa are considerable.”

The Russian ambassador to the Central African Republic told the Russian state-owned domestic news agency RIA Novosti that 1,890 “Russian instructors” are supporting government troops in the civil war there, and added that it is thought that there are up to 1,200 mercenaries in Libya, while in Mali, the anti-Western junta has brought in several hundred Wagner fighters.

The paper predicts that Wagner will focus now on Sudan, which “will play an important role in Russia’s new Africa strategy. If Prigozhin and his fighters can achieve success on this front, their next may be Eritrea.” This might bring broader predictions of Russia’s growing military role in Africa.

Overall, the message from the summit was “From Russia with Love,” showing a Russia intent on a more equal and cooperative world compared with the persistent inequalities of Western relations.

President Vladimir Putin’s warm welcoming of African leaders indicates how Russia is reshuffling its traditional allies, and clearly, the African continent has highly strategic importance for Moscow in many fields.

This policy will continue in at least the short and medium term, with instant impact gestures mixed with longer-term investment and interdependency.

Much of the African continent seems to be happily accepting this message, allowing their hearts and minds to be swayed through the possibilities of economics, politics, military, and other geopolitical and strategic considerations.

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