Taking advantage of the Russia-Africa summit and the presence of dozens of African leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin advanced his goal of expanding Moscow’s geopolitical clout.
At the two-day summit in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, the Russian president resurrected old bonds forged by the Soviet Union with the result that arms shipments are now flowing from Moscow to Algeria to Mozambique. Consultants are assisting embattled strongmen with election strategies and development plans for natural resource projects.
As the summit opened, Russia landed two nuclear-capable bombers in South Africa on a training mission. The two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers touched down at Waterkloof air force base in Tshwane, the South African National Defense Force confirmed.
Praising what it said were strong diplomatic links between the countries, the South African body added: “Our relations are not solely built on ‘struggle politics’, but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests.”
Rwanda is the latest African country to sign a nuclear deal with the Russian state atomic company Rosatom.
The deals between Russia and several African countries have raised concerns among environmentalists who say nuclear energy is not always clean and does not come free.
“Rosatom is prepared to help our African partners in creating a nuclear industry,” Putin declared, with “the construction of research centers based on multifunctional reactors.”
The nuclear pacts come despite an African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty – also called the Pelindaba Treaty – which obligates Parties not to develop, manufacture, acquire, or possess any nuclear explosive device. Parties may engage in peaceful nuclear activities but must conclude safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Opened for signature in 1996, it came into force in 2009 with 40 countries signing on.
Other new military deals include Nigeria which will receive 12 Russian-made Mi-35 attack helicopters, according to the RIA Russian news agency.
Rosatom is also in talks with Ethiopia to build a nuclear power station there, Interfax quoted the Russian company as saying.
Putin has called for trade with African countries to double over the next four to five years, adding Moscow had written off over $20 billion in African debts.
Michael Gatari, the head of nuclear science and technology at the University of Nairobi, said African countries can pursue nuclear technology but must get their own people to manage the nuclear reactors.
Russia was seeking business in Africa, not giving away gifts, he observed.
“Africa is not going to get a free reactor… They’re selling their technology… Of course, there is a component of ‘we will train your people, we’ll do this,’ but if you calculate the cost, it’s we who cough. So the African countries should move into it with a business vision.”