The Kremlin said Tuesday that 49 African leaders had confirmed their participation in the two-day summit to be held in St. Petersburg from Thursday, although only 17 heads of state are expected to make appearances in-person like South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
At the 2019 summit held in Sochi, 43 leaders were in attendance, and it’s not clear if Russia’s decision to halt the United Nations-Turkey brokered grain deal last week, which supports the Horn of Africa, for instance, could have angered the African leaders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told African leaders Moscow would gift Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25-50,000 tons of grain in the coming months.
Putin said Russia was expecting a record grain harvest this year and was ready to replace Ukrainian grain exports to Africa.
David Otto Endeley, director of the Geneva-based Center for African Security and Strategic Studies, told VOA that the Kremlin’s resolve to rally African leaders as it continues its invasion of Ukraine, could be to assert its place in global geopolitics despite attempts by other world leaders to isolate it.
"For Moscow to be having this event with 49 African states attending, at the time where it is virtually at war, sends a very significant message to NATO and the West that Russia still has Africa as its key ally," he said.
He said during the first Russia-Africa summit, deals reached totaled some $11 billion, adding that it is crucial for the Kremlin to prove its true economic interests in Africa by doubling investments on the continent.
Currently, Russia has the lowest amount of investments in Africa even as it fell short of its $40 billion trade investments pledge at the 2019 summit. The European Union has the highest at $295 billion, China with $254 billion and $83.7 billion for the United States.
"I want to see a difference in the way that Russia invests in Africa, and Africa should have a heavier leverage now that Russia feels isolated and sees Africa as its only lifeline," Endeley said.
"So, I want to see an increase in the number of memoranda of understandings that would be signed and the key to this is African countries working as a bloc."
Adib Saani, Accra-based foreign policy and security analyst, told VOA that the summit could be Russia’s way to gauge its influence in Africa, adding that it should not be seen as a yet another "popularity contest" for power.
"This summit is to not just seek economic and business partnerships, but also to send a clear message to Western powers that if they think Russia and China is isolated, no, they are not isolated, and they still have some degree of influence all over the world, including Africa. This is political in nature as well," he said.
"Russia would want to reassess its influence in Africa, not just economically, but militarily especially with the activities of Wagner in the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and other parts of the continent."
The Sochi Summit in 2019 saw the signing of 92 agreements amounting to some $11 billion, and this time, the analysts are hopeful that the figure would more than double to prove Russia's keen interest in Africa as an investment destination.
"It’s imperative to clear the notion that once you cooperate with Russia, you’re seen as anti-Western, or once you cooperate with the West, you’re seen as anti-eastern or anti- Russian. No, it’s about interests. Africa has the bargaining power and we need to leverage on that," Saani said.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.