News from Ukraine: Russia seeks support from African allies

Recognition…Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Vladimir V. Putin sees himself as the leader of a global movement rebelling against the dominance of the United States and its allies. On Sunday, his top diplomat took that message straight to Africa, hoping to turn hunger and social unrest across the continent to Russia’s advantage.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has made it clear that he will use the trip to blame the West for food shortages in African countries and to portray Russia as a staunch ally of the continent.

“We know that African colleagues do not condone the blatant attempts by the US and its European satellites to gain the upper hand and impose a unipolar world order on the international community,” Lavrov wrote in an article published in newspapers in the four countries he visits will visit: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.

Governments in Africa and the Middle East have been caught between Russia and the West since the beginning of the Ukraine war, and have faced Western pressure to voice their disapproval of the invasion while attempting to restrict access to Russian grain and other exports to maintain.

Western allies have made a concerted effort to prevent them from getting too close to Russia, using diplomatic pressure to persuade several Arab countries, including Egypt, to vote for a United Nations resolution authorizing the invasion of Ukraine in March. (While the Republic of the Congo voted in favour, Uganda abstained and Ethiopia did not participate.)

Ahead of Mr Lavrov’s visit, Western diplomats in Cairo were lobbying Egypt behind the scenes not to give the Russian minister an overly warm welcome.

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, will also visit the region on Sunday and travel to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia for talks.

But Western attempts at counter-programming, including editorials and social media posts, have done little to garner more public support in the Middle East. Russian disinformation and propaganda have found fertile ground in a region where many Arabs have long harbored anti-American and anti-Western sentiments stemming from the US invasion of Iraq and Western support for Israel.

For months, the United States, Britain and the European Union have condemned Russia in the strongest possible terms for shutting down the flow of Ukrainian grain to the world through the Black Sea, blaming the blame for global food shortages squarely on Putin’s feet.

On Friday, Russia agreed to a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that would allow Ukraine to export its grain, underscoring Putin’s apparent concern for public opinion in the developing world. The next morning, however, Russian missiles hit the port of Odessa, raising doubts about Moscow’s intention to honor the deal.

In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said her country will do “everything we can to fulfill and fulfill our part of the deal” and “feed the world.” “.

But she said the strikes in Odessa showed that Russia was not acting in good faith.

“Our farmers even plant and harvest under fire,” Ms. Markarova said.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s seaport authority announced that it is working to restore shipping in the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

Public opinion in African countries seems to vacillate between support for Ukraine and sympathy for Russia’s justification for its invasion.

While few African leaders have publicly supported Russia, no African country has joined American and European sanctions against Moscow.

That balancing act was illustrated last month when the head of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, met with Mr Putin. Mr Sall asked Mr Putin to free up Ukrainian grain, but he also reiterated Moscow’s argument that Western sanctions had made the food crisis worse. expressly calls for the lifting of export restrictions on Russian wheat and fertilizers.

Although the sanctions do not cover these goods, shipping companies, insurers, banks and other companies have been reluctant to do business with Russia for fear of breaking the rules or damaging their reputation.

In his article, Lavrov praised African leaders for resisting Western pressure to join sanctions against Russia. “Such an independent path deserves deep respect,” he wrote.

For Mr Putin, the idea of ​​Russia leading a global insurgency against Western hegemony has emerged as the core of his message to global public opinion amid the war. He has repeatedly referred to the people of the United States and its allies as the “golden billion” living well at everyone else’s expense.

“Why should this golden billion, which is only part of the world’s population, dominate everyone else and enforce their code of conduct based on the illusion of the extraordinary?” he told a forum in Moscow on Wednesday. “It got where it is mainly by robbing other peoples in Asia and Africa.”

But Mr Putin’s message was complicated by the fact that Ukraine has not been able to export its grain by sea since the war began, and that Russian officials have not shied away from using the threat of hunger in the developing world as a bargaining chip.

Murithi Mutiga, Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, said Russia had several advantages as it tried to win hearts and minds on the continent: a network of elites studying in the Soviet Union, the “enduring loyalty” of groups, which it supported in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the fact that it supplies arms to numerous African governments.

“Moscow, however, will be disappointed if it expects more African governments to offer it full support,” Mutiga said. “The overwhelming instinct of the authorities on the continent is to remain neutral and stay out of the confrontation between Russia and the West.”

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