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Russia's Lavrov Visits Nairobi


Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya Moses Wetangula, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shake hands prior to their talks in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday, May 29, 2023

UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM PRESIDENT RUTO: NAIROBI - Kenya said Monday it has agreed to boost trade ties with Moscow, during a surprise visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Nairobi, as Moscow and Kyiv both seek to bolster support from African nations.

With the conflict still raging in Ukraine 15 months after Russia's invasion, President William Ruto reiterated Kenya's "steadfast position on respect for territorial integrity of member states as outlined in the UN Charter."

"Kenya calls for a resolution of the conflict in a manner respectful to the two parties," he said in a statement issued by his office after Ruto met with Lavrov.

Ruto said trade between Nairobi and Moscow was still low despite the "huge potential" and that the two countries would be signing a trade pact, the statement said, without elaborating.

Kenya exported $55 million worth of products to Russia in 2022, while imports totalled $266 million, according to the latest Kenyan government figures.

Ruto also pressed the case for Africa to be represented on the UN Security Council, where Russia is one of five permanent member states.

Foreign Minister Lavrov's Kenya trip comes on the heels of a trip to the continent last week by his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

"During our visit we will discuss our cooperation in the trade, investment and economic spheres, humanitarian and cultural questions, education, cooperation in the U.N. and many other issues," Lavrov told Kenyan lawmakers, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

The trip had not been announced in advance, and no information has been forthcoming from Kenyan officials.

Kuleba last week called for certain African nations to end their neutral stances over the 15-month-old war in Ukraine and announced a push by Kyiv to intensify its ties with the continent.

"We speak with our African friends, trying to explain to them that neutrality is not the answer," Kuleba said at a press conference on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, home of the African Union.

He also announced in a statement the following day that Ukraine planned to open more embassies in Africa and stage a summit with the continent's leaders.

In February, 22 of the African Union's 54 member states abstained or did not vote on a UN General Assembly resolution that called for Russia withdraw from Ukraine.

Two of them - Eritrea and Mali - voted against the resolution.

Russia has ties with African countries that can be traced to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union cast itself as an anti-colonialist defender.

A Russia-Africa summit, the second in the series, is to be held in Saint Petersburg from July 26-29.