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Putin’s Expansion Into Ukraine Mirrors Its Africa Strategy: Analysts

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) pose for a family photo with African leaders attending 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi, Oct 24, 2019.

Analysts say Russia's annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine Friday after holding a referendum deemed a “sham” by Ukraine and the West shares similarities to its expansion of influence in Africa.

Putin has attempted to justify the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, saying he has liberated citizens who were unjustly separated from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

''Russia's use of referendums and annexations to encroach on parts of Ukraine is the same way it is encroaching on Western former colonies [on] the African continent,’' David Otto Endeley, director of counter-terrorism at Geneva-based Center for African Security and Strategic Studies, told VOA.

The Kremlin disguises its advancements in Africa as ''military and defense alliances,” he added.

Russia has been increasing military and economic involvement in Africa for several years, hoping to build on ties established during the Cold War when Soviets supported socialist movements across the continent.

Early this year, many African nations were slow to criticize Putin’s offensive with 17 countries abstaining from a U.N. resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

''The March vote at the United Nations at the start of the war clearly indicated that some African countries were not keen to take sides," Endeley said. "So, clearly there's a geopolitical implication with the fact that Russia is now focused on military and defense alliances that it has established in African countries like the Central African Republic and Mali."

FILE - Screens display the results of a vote on a resolution regarding the war in Ukraine at United Nations headquarters, Thursday, March 24, 2022.
FILE - Screens display the results of a vote on a resolution regarding the war in Ukraine at United Nations headquarters, Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Endeley said African countries will likely face ''economic warfare'' considering most of the continent is dependent on food imports, especially grain, from Ukraine and Russia.

''Whatever happens between Russia and Ukraine will have a significant impact on Africa, because a lot of Western countries are paying more attention to what's happening in Ukraine, instead of assisting African countries on different levels of aid,’' he said.

Oleg Ignatov, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told VOA that Russia's interest in Africa stems from its view of the continent as ''a stage for new rivalry'' between Europe, the United States, China and Gulf nations.

Moscow's investment in the Ukraine war, Ignatov said, renders it incapable of any meaningful partnership with Africa at this time.

''I think Africa is still very important [to] Russia, but it doesn't have a lot to offer African countries. [Russia] can offer mercenaries and food to some countries, and weapons but these weapons are not sophisticated,'' he said, adding that, “Moscow has less resources now than before the war” and “will not be able to guarantee its presence on the continent.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov traveled across Africa in July visiting Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia seeking allies amid competition with Western powers for sway in Africa.