Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is visiting Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo this week to try to counter Western blame on Russia for a growing global food crisis. Experts say Russia will push its own narrative about why it is attacking Ukraine and use this visit to show it has friends.
Lavrov was in the Republic of Congo on Monday, the second day of his tour, to meet with the Central African nation’s leaders.
Steven Gruzd, head of the Russia-Africa program at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said Russia would play the victim card when meeting with African leaders.
“It’s a propaganda war as much as a shooting war and we’ve seen on the Ukrainian side how successfully President Zelensky has used social media,” Gruzd said. “He gives daily messages, he talks to parliaments and [the U.S.] Congresses and groups around the world. Practically, we see it on the front line and Russia mounts a counter-offensive. I think it’s all part of that same trend.
Gruzd said it was interesting that it was an in-person visit rather than an online communication.
“I think it’s deliberately calculated to show that Russia is not isolated, that Russia still has friends in the world, that Russia still cares about Africa,” Gruzd said.
In Egypt, Lavrov met with Arab League leaders, seeking support from the group’s 22 member states and accusing the West of ignoring his country’s security concerns. He is expected to do the same during his visit to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Wale Olusola, who teaches international politics at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, said Russia is using the African visit to clean up its image after invading Ukraine and seeking to influence the continent.
“The visit reverberates all over Africa, so there’s a message it sends globally in terms of a new relationship that Russia is trying to cut,” Olusola said. “Russia can take great advantage of this visit, to at least give the impression to other members of the world community that it is not isolated.”
Olusola said Russia could also be looking for a long-term gain.
“These types of visits are not just purely surface diplomatic,” Olusola said. “We expect an arrangement, some agreements to be signed or informally agreed with Russia on a fair basis with respect to countries that have security concerns.”
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Africa imports almost half of its military equipment from Russia, adding that arms export is a key part of Russia’s economic growth.
According to the institute’s count, the number of African countries buying weapons from Russia has fallen from 16 in the 2000s to 21. A handful of countries also use mercenaries supplied by Russia.
Olusola said African countries should take advantage of opportunities such as Lavrov’s visit to defend their own interests and that Russia must be willing to provide some kind of concrete economic and financial support to struggling African economies.
“I think this is an opportunity for African countries to restore the African position on the Ukraine crisis and of course to see ways beyond Western relations and the benefits they derive from Western countries,” he said. said Olusola.
At the United Nations General Assembly in March, 38 African countries condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine, but Ukraine supporters accuse African countries of doing too little to hold Russia accountable for its invasion .