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Russia's Foreign Minister Woos African Nations: Analysis

FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop attend a news conference following their talks in Bamako, Mali, Feb. 7, 2023.
FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop attend a news conference following their talks in Bamako, Mali, Feb. 7, 2023.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently wrapped up visits to Mauritania, Mali, Sudan and South Africa as Russia continues to court the African continent, seeking closer relations and support against the West.

VOA senior analyst Mohamed Elshinnawi spoke with Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at George Mason University, about Russia’s engagement in Africa.

The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: How do you explain the response many African nations have had toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Katz: Well, much to the chagrin of the West, Africa and many Arab countries have been a lot more sympathetic toward Russia with regard to the war in Ukraine. They might not support what Russia is doing in Ukraine, but they don't want Russia to lose. What they like about Russia is that it gives security assistance without bothering about human rights or democracy or anything like this, whereas Western countries are, to some extent, more interested in getting these governments to reform and to make compromises.

VOA: When Lavrov was in town, Khartoum was also hosting envoys from the U.S., Britain, France and other countries. Lavrov said Western delegations are following our steps and trying to hinder our efforts toward having a multipolar world. How do you explain this statement?

Katz: Well, this is really quite funny. I'm sure these delegations were probably in the works before Lavrov decided to visit these places. I don't think that they're deliberately following him. What I do think though is that if Lavrov favors a multipolar world that means it's a world in which the different great powers are competing for influence in the other countries.

That's exactly what the West is doing as well as with Russia. And if Russia doesn't want them doing that then it must not be interested in a multipolar world.

VOA: Russia apparently aims to present itself as the continent's security broker and project the image of a defender of Africa. Lavrov offered support for Mauritania in the fight against extremist groups in the Sahel when he met President Mohammed Ould Cheikh in Nouakchott. What do you make of that?

Katz: Well, indeed, several African governments, which have been former French colonies, seem to be increasingly at odds with France. And I think that they like the idea of sticking it in the eye of the French by turning to the Russians, that the Russians will do things that the French won't do for them.

I think the real problem is though, the Russians have not been able to actually resolve any conflict. If they're a security broker, I can't think of an instance in which they actually resolved any conflict, nor have they managed to defeat any opposition to any state either. In fact, it might not be in their interest because if, in fact, the opposition is eliminated then there might not be any further need for Wagner to be in those particular countries.

A lot of African governments and the public in many African states right now see their interests as somehow aligned with Russia. But I think the real question is will this be successful in the long term? In other words, that presumably they're going to want Russia to actually do something for them. And if it can't, I don't see how they're not going to grow as disillusioned with Russia as they were with France.