Lavrov’s trip to Africa reveals the limits of Russian soft power

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to South Africa, e.Swatini, and Angola this week focused on portraying Russia as a partner to the continent. Development and security, especially in energy section. The tour also included an explicit propaganda component aimed at bolstering Russia’s fractured global image as it seeks closer ties with African nations over its disastrous invasion of Ukraine in February.

the picture And Russian state and state media predict that Russia and its African counterparts will seriously try to build better relations, despite the intervention of the West and its “neo-colonial” policies.

Given how little Russia has to offer in economic terms right now, the development narrative is somewhat dubious. Before the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow Export to neighboring Belarus more than it exported and imported from all 54 African countries combined. Since the war and its economic repercussions, Russia’s growth prospects are looking up depressedwhich means that it is not always likely to embark on ambitious financial, infrastructure or business projects.

On the economic front, the tour appears to have produced uneven results at best. While Lavrov and his counterparts praised the economic ties in each country, only the announcement in Luanda of a possible agreement for Russia to help Angola develop its own state. Atomic Energy The program was of no note.

Rosatom was also the regulator for nuclear energy in Russia does not exist In Angola until 2019 the initiative will largely start from scratch and Rosatom’s foreign projects have often been delay Or ended up going NowhereTherefore, the prospective deal may not come to fruition.

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What about the security component? In recent years, Russia has succeeded in carving a distinguished position for its defense and security industries in Africa and has become the largest armaments on the continent the supplier. Almost every country in Africa she has A security agreement with Moscow is in effect, and it sends many army officers and specialists for training in Russian military academies. The state-aligned Wagner mercenary group is also active across the continent, with armed personnel or liaison offices deployed in several countries, including Angola and Eswatini.

Lavrov’s tour helped highlight Moscow’s influence in security matters, though it also highlighted its limitations. Having said that, there have been signs of a growing Russian security footprint in eSwatini, where Lavrov is he met With the Prime Minister and many other senior officials. The tiny kingdom has been in turmoil since 2020, as King Mswati III has tried to maintain his absolute power despite widespread opposition to his rule.

In 2016, the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement focusing on exercise And Intelligence exchange. Independent media in the country in exile mentioned that Russian forces have trained the country’s military to clamp down on a restive population, a charge Moscow has denied.

On January 19, the Russian ambassador to eSwatini He said Moscow is ready to provide security assistance to the kingdom. Officially the country’s defense minister dropped The proposal, but he met Lavrov during his visit nonetheless.

South Africa is a less obvious security partner for Russia, as there is no military cooperation agreement between the two countries, and there is no Wagner that we know of. while the two signed agreements In order to jointly develop defense manufacturing, South Africa is not a large market for Russian arms sales.

Despite this, Lavrov’s visit was prefaced with the announcement that the Russian Navy would do so joining 10 days of Chinese-South African naval maneuvers in coastal waters around Durban.

The planned joint military exercises have been criticized by South Africa’s political opposition as well as by the country’s Western partners. More sensitive still accusations South African members of Parliament recently announced that the government will sell weapons to Russia in 2022.

Even in Angola, which voted to condemn Russia’s sham referendums in eastern Ukraine at the United Nations in October, despite the countries’ long history of close relations, there have been signs of increased cooperation.

In December, Angolan President Joao Lourenco said he would replace Russian weapons with imports from the United States, marking a victory for Washington that had been preemptively building rapprochement for some time, until send Envoy to Luanda hot on the heels of Lavrov.

Lavrov’s visit was reportedly targeted had brought Angola has returned to the Russian fold, but the joint press conference – while cordial – offered no indication that Luanda had changed its position on Russian arms sales or the invasion of Ukraine.

Other than the uncertain nuclear energy deal with Angola, what did Lavrov’s visit achieve? Arguably, it fulfilled its primary function of promoting Russian wartime propaganda to both citizens elites and the general public in three African countries.

During the visit, Russian propaganda was sometimes echo by state officials and is often reproduced by Sweetened media, while Lavrov’s comments about the war also fueled the usual disinformation factories and were reproduced many times across several platforms. As far as diplomacy is concerned with conveying a message, Lavrov can rest assured that his quick tour was a success.

The opinions expressed in the opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

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