Russia and Africa can work together to protect national sovereignty and put an end to colonialism, Russian President Vladimir Putin told African delegates at the 2023 Africa-Russia summit in St. Petersburg.
Speaking at the event’s plenary session, alongside the heads of state of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea and Guinea-Bissau, Putin said that Africa is “becoming a new centre of power,” and claimed that Moscow has “invariably provided support during the African countries’ difficult fight against colonialism.”
The meeting, the second of its kind after the inaugural Africa-Russia summit in 2019, is a two-day event designed by Moscow to boost its relations with the African continent, amidst ever-growing pressure from Western sanctions. As part of the summit, Russia discussed issues such as national security, bilateral trade and the exchange of technology with 49 different delegations. In the West, many nations see the meeting as Moscow’s ploy to gain further support for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has traditionally had supporters in Africa due to the work of the Soviet Union on the continent. Moscow started to take a deep interest in the continent during the period of decolonisation in the 1950s, when it offered aid and weapons to curry favour with local politicians and take advantage of the region’s negative view towards the West.
According to Putin, the relationship that was founded “in the mid-20th century during the struggle of the African continent’s peoples for their freedom” is still important today.
“Importantly, Russia and Africa share the inherent commitment to standing up for genuine sovereignty and the right to follow their own unique development path in the political, economic, social, cultural and other areas,” Putin stated.
“However, this aspiration to independence and sovereignty does not mean self-isolation. On the contrary, it implies being open to co-operating with free nations and states who are equals and enjoy the same rights.”
Speaking at the plenary session, Putin sought to impress upon the African delegations that Russia was doing a lot to help them, including in the field of humanitarian work. This comes off the back of the end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that helped Ukraine ship its grain to Africa – which is vital for millions of lives. Moscow opted to end the deal, citing its own political reasons, leaving numerous countries at risk of famine.
“Realising the importance of an uninterrupted food supply for the socio-economic development and political stability of African states, we are increasing agricultural supplies to Africa,” he said, stating that Russia will always be a “responsible” international supplier of agricultural products to Africa.
“Thus in 2022, 11.5mn tonnes of grain were delivered to African countries, and in the first six months of this year alone we supplied almost 10mn tonnes. This is despite the illegal sanctions imposed on our exports, which seriously hinder the supply of Russian food, complicate transport logistics, insurance and bank payments,” he continued.
The Russian President also said that Russia has taken steps “to ease the debt burden African countries are facing,” claiming that Moscow had written off $23bn of debt owed by African countries. While a small amount of this has been recent, including a $684mn debt relief deal agreed by Somalia on the sidelines of the summit, the vast majority of that $23bn is decades old and stems from Moscow’s decision to let countries like Angola and Algeria off from paying back debts owed for weapons purchased from the Soviet Union.