From Mozambique to Algeria, Moscow has delivered arms shipment and helped strongmen with election techniques, pursued natural resources projects in Africa and deployed military teams.
The continent is not Moscow`s topmost priority the Russian government sees it as a fertile ground to regain old ties and forge new ones mixing business and politics to circumvent American and European sanctions and increase their standing among African leaders whilst scoring points against America.
According to Joseph Siegle, research director at the National Defense University Africa Center for Strategic Studies, this is a low-cost, high profile way of raising Russia`s image in the continent.
He doesn’t see much of a long term strategy for the continent but sees it as a fit into a broad foreign policy where Russia is utilizing opportunities and appearing as a global power. Russia`s recent engagement in African policies and activities is a result of cold war legacy and mistakes created by the west which has opened new opportunities for them.
The Soviet Union used to be a major player in Africa during the cold war due to their exploitation of the west`s colonial history to support independent groups and shore up their support among the continent`s elite and populace alike.
The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about the breaking of old ties or links and those that remained gradually faded as a weak Russia drastically reduced its global ambitions, but many African states still fondly remember Soviet support during then times. Rekindling and keeping Russian Soviet-era links in Africa has become an urgent priority for Putin.
According to Olga Kulkova, a senior researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the return of Russia to Africa feels like jumping on the last wagon of the train.
Some elites around the continent still maintain ties to the Soviet times but the current generation doesn’t have the same types of links to Russia. So Russia has to utilize the opportunity to return while they still have connections.
This marks a stark transformation of Russia`s position in the continent and worldwide as part of serious efforts by the Russian government (Kremlin) to boost their global standing.
Russia was hit by Western governments after the annexation of Crimea and also due to their support of separatists in eastern Ukraine as the West tried to isolate and put pressure on Russia to change its behaviour.
The Kremlin`s push for global influence and standing has led to an acceleration of their foreign policy pivot to find new opportunities around the globe due to its worsening relationship with the West.