Some 43 African leaders are expected to converge on the Black Sea city of Sochi this week for the first summit with the Russian leader as he moves to build allies and strategic partnerships in a new political landscape around the world.
President Vladimir Putin sweetened the invitation on Monday saying that Moscow could offer help without strings, unlike the exploitative West.
The summit is scheduled to run from Oct. 23-24.
“We are not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is civilized,” Putin told Russia’s Tass news agency Sunday.
Russia hopes to host such summits every three years, with foreign ministers meeting annually, said Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is the co-chair this time.
Over the years, the former Soviet Union explored ties with Angola and Ethiopia and more recently the Central African Republic where ties with former president Michel Djotodia led to the arrival of Russian military and civilian trainers.
Until the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union showed very little interest in Africa. But Soviet leaders, beginning with Nikita Khrushchev, were excited by the enthusiastic young black Africans who first came to Moscow for a major youth festival in 1957. Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University was established in Moscow in 1960 to provide higher education to Third World students. It became an integral part of the Soviet cultural offensive in nonaligned countries.
With the decline of socialism in Russia and most Africa countries, Russia is now focused on military cooperation agreements which have been signed with at least 28 African countries, the majority in the past five years, often using counterterrorism as a basis, according to an analysis published in August by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Moscow can’t bring as much to the table in terms of investment, humanitarian aid or even soft power but its assistance is free from conditions linked to human rights concerns, making Russia an attractive business partner for other countries chafing from Western sanctions.
One of them is Zimbabwe, whose President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Putin in Moscow early this year and praised Russia for standing by during his country’s long period of isolation. “You, as a senior brother, can hold my hand as I try to develop Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said, according to the Kremlin’s report. Putin is a decade younger than him.