Second Russia-Africa Summit: A Mixed Bag for Africa
Samir Bhattacharya, Senior Research Associate, VIF

In recent years, Russia may have increased its influence in Africa more than any other external power. However, Russia has a long history of interaction with Africa. These two continents were extremely close during the Cold War as the Soviet Union played a considerable role in Africa. The Soviet Union supported numerous post-colonial African movements for freedom and self-determination because to their shared ideological and economic goals that frequently coincide, as well as their relationships being strengthened by their common reservations toward the West.

Several countries that gained independence later received military assistance, as well as assistance in the areas of technology, finance, and education. Often, Soviet leaders disapproved of and distanced themselves from military dictatorships. Instead, throughout the Cold War, many African countries looked to the Soviet Union as a diplomatic partner, an intellectual inspiration, and a source of influence.

In fact, as a counterbalance to Western neo-colonialism, the Soviet Union pushed for social reforms in Africa. Later, the Soviet Union helped numerous friendly and emerging African nations economically. Undoubtedly, the Soviets have a lasting legacy which continues to generate a lot of sympathy and respect toward Russia. This was evident by the manner in which Africa voted on UN resolutions denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. In fact, many attributed the hesitancy of African states to condemn Russia in different UN meetings to its deeply rooted Soviet-era ties that Moscow forged with the continent.[1]

Second Russia-Africa Summit

As a follow up of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in 2019, the second Russia-Africa Summit took place in Russia’s St. Petersburg on July 27 and 28, 2023.[2] The summit was initially slated to take place in Addis Ababa in October 2022.[3] However, the summit was postponed, most likely because of issues arising from Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. 49 of the 54 African countries were represented. However, there were only ministers from 27 of them, including ten Prime Ministers and 17 Heads of State.[4]

This is in stark contrast to the 2019 summit, which was attended by 109 ministers, the heads of the African Union (AU) Commission, the African Export-Import Bank, and a number of regional economic communities in addition to 43 African Heads of State and two vice presidents.[5] The summit this year also had a humanitarian component.

At the end of the summit, both parties announced a joint Declaration with 74 points for cooperation on security, trade, and the environment.[6] However, the statements were quite vague, and some terms like neo-colonialism, neo-Nazism, neo-fascism, Russophobia, unlawful sanctions, import substitution, and traditional values were repeatedly used.

Implications of the Summit for Africa

In the wake of the summit, the main issue for African policymakers was the steadily declining level of food security. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, decided to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) on July 17, over a year after it was signed in Istanbul.[7] The BSGI was created to ease the Russian blockade and enable grain exports from Ukraine to Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and five other African Peace initiative leaders pleaded with President Putin to reconsider his decision during the meeting. However, their request was flatly turned down. The proclamation, however, assigned all the responsibility for the food shortages to Western sanctions.

It is reassuring for these impoverished countries that President Putin has promised to give 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free cereals to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea.[8] However, it will not be given immediately when the food shortage is most acute. The quantity is also insufficient for a continent with 54 nations.

Unsurprisingly, none of the five nations—except Somalia—ever voted in favour of anti-Russian resolutions in various UN meetings.[9] Somalia, which recently ended a protracted civil war, may have voted against Russia because it wants to receive comprehensive external debt reduction from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Additionally, there are claims that the Russian military has been targeting the Berbera port in the secessionist nation of Somaliland as a potential Red Sea facility.[10] Russia reportedly waived debts totalling more than $684 million that Somalia owed during the conference, demonstrating its clear geopolitical interest in Somalia.[11] In any case, these are only pledges, not solid obligations.

Indeed, Russia has forgiven a sizable portion of its $23 billion debt to various African countries.[12] Nearly 90% of all debt in Africa is represented by this. President Putin claims these results in some financial commitments for Africa but no longer any “direct” debts to Russia. However, considering that the share of the Russian loan to Africa is so small, this will have little effect on the heavily indebted continent. Putin added that, at the request of African nations, his government would also contribute more than $90 million for development objectives. Last but not least, Russia declared that it would invest roughly $13 million in “large-scale assistance” for African healthcare systems.[13]

Implications of the Summit for Russia

Africa currently has a $12 billion trade deficit with Russia because it imports five times as much as it exports. [14][15] As it stands, it only accounts for roughly $18 billion a year, or about 2% of all trade on the continent.[16] In addition, only four nations—Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa—acquire 70% of commerce.[17]

The first summit’s organisers boasted that dozens of deals worth an estimated $15 billion had been inked;[18] however, other accounts claim that the majority of these were memorandums of understanding, which are not legally binding. Additionally, around 1% of the overall influx is now made up of direct investments from Russia in Africa.[19]

Indeed, Russia lacks the financial capacity to rival bilateral development donors like the US, France, Germany, Japan, and China. It does, however, have some cards in the deck. With a delivery of 500,000 tonnes, it was Africa’s greatest supplier of fertiliser the previous year.[20] It is also a substantial force in the mining, oil, and gas industries. Russia’s dedication to education is yet another big endeavour to deepen connections with Africa. In contrast to the 1,900 scholarships granted in 2019, Russia gave a record 4,700 scholarships to African students in 2023, a 150% hike.[21] About 6,000 of the 35,000 African students studying in Russia at the moment are doing so on various government scholarships.[22]

The most significant component of Russia’s conventional trade with Africa is the sale of arms, which is mainly managed by the government-run Rosoboronexport.[23] In comparison to other significant actors like the US (17%), China (10%), and France (6.1%), Russia currently imports 44% of the major weaponry into the continent between 2017 and 2021.[24] Other Russian businesses with significant interests in Africa include Alrosa, which oversees diamond projects in Angola[25] and is looking into opportunities in Zimbabwe. Rusal is mining bauxite in Guinea,[26] and Rosatom is building a nuclear power plant in Egypt.[27] Ethiopia and Zimbabwe inked agreements with Rosatom for nuclear development during the most recent conference.[28]

Future of Russia Africa Relations

Paradoxically, Russia’s almost complete absence from Africa for over three decades is its most prominent policy shortcoming in its return strategy to Africa. In its absence, various nations engaged with Africa at that time based on their unique strengths. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not provide any assistance to Africa. This was mostly caused by the deteriorating economy in Russia and global sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe. As Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history,”[29] the USA was either too busy or too pleased, and Africa was no longer a top focus for its foreign policy. Only China was making gains in Africa at that time.

The fact that Russia has recognised its mistakes is a good sign. And hopefully, it is not too late to take adequate measures to make up for the error, as these things are assessed over a more extended period of time. Evaluating the progress since 2019, when Russia-Africa relations gained new life with its institutionalisation, would therefore be challenging, especially against the backdrop of Covid, when the entire world came to a halt.

Undoubtedly, the first summit between Russia and Africa in Sochi in October 2019 marked a watershed moment for Russia-Africa relations. Russia utilised the meeting to formalise its Africa strategy. However, since the first Russia-Africa Summit, the geopolitical environment has undergone a significant transformation. The international economy has been severely hampered first by the Covid-induced pandemic and now by the war in Ukraine. There were discussions of developing alternative currencies like the BRICS currency as the US-led global order’s unipolarity steadily erodes. As a result, interest in this year’s Russia-Africa conference increased noticeably.


Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister has made three trips to Africa this year, demonstrating the country’s exceptional commitment to interacting with that continent[30] These diplomatic initiatives highlight the growing significance that Moscow attaches to the assistance of African nations. In its struggle against Western hegemony, Russia undoubtedly intended to highlight the depth of its African partners’ support. And from that angle, the meeting accomplished what Russia wanted. And African leaders have virtually nothing concrete to take away from the summit except from some of these announcements.

The summit, however, was also essential for African leaders to show other foreign powers that they were receptive to hearing different viewpoints. It also demonstrated to the West that Russia was not as isolated as believed and that West should not take African support for granted. To infer that Africans are not aware of Russian motives is simplistic and ignores the fact that many Africans believe the West ignores them. African nations have long lamented their economic and political exclusion from international bodies like the UN, where many feel their voices are not heard. The continent does not currently have a permanent seat in the G20 or on the UNSC, although this may change given recent support for two permanent African seats on the UNSC from the foreign ministers of Germany and France, as well as from Indian Prime Minister Modi, who is zealously pursuing a permanent membership for the African Union in the G20.

Many African states are caught in a geopolitical bind as a result of the unpredictability of the current political landscape. However, they understand that risking their connections with either the West or Russia is not the wisest course of action in the new era of multilateralism. Nearly all African countries reject global power blocs and the influence of the West and are nonaligned. Foreign leaders frequently make big promises but fall short of keeping them. The summit’s poor turnout may also indicate that African leaders are re-evaluating their position in the multipolar world. This is likely another factor in the absence of the Heads of State and Ministers, who instead sent delegates. The presence of Africa at the summit clearly symbolises the rise of African realpolitik.


[1]Mathieu Droin and Tina Dolbaia. “Russia Is Still Progressing in Africa. What's the Limit?”. Centre for Strategic and International Studies. August 15, 2023.
[2] “Russia-Africa Summit to take place in St Petersburg from 27-28 July”. African Business. June 19, 2023.
[3] “Sudan’s Burhan to attend Russia-Africa summit in July”. Sudan Tribune. June 30, 2023.
[4]SomarWijayadasa. “Russia-Africa Summit Fortifies ‘Deep-rooted’ Relations”. Indepth News. August 2, 2023.
[5]Payce Madden. “Russia-Africa summit, Botswana’s election, and Africa’s new”. Brookings. October 26, 2019.
[6]President of Russia. “Declaration of the Second Russia–Africa Summit”. July 28, 2023,
[7]Josep Borrell Fontelles. “Russia must stop using food as a weapon”. WION. August 2, 2023.
[8]Pjotr Sauer. “Putin promises free grain to six African nations after collapse of Black Sea deal”. The Guardian. July 27, 2023.
[9] “Russia offers support to Somalian army in fight against terrorist groups”. ABC News. May 26, 2023.
[10]Mohamed Olad Hassan. “Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia”. Voice of America. May 26, 2023.
[11]Aggrey Mutambo. “Somalia gets debt relief as African leaders attend Putin’s summit”. The East African. July 27, 2023.
[12] “Russia–Africa Summit”.President of Russia. July 28, 2023.
[13]Chris Devonshire-Ellis. “Russia – Africa 2023 Summit: Progress & Joint Declaration”. July 31, 2023.
[14]Constantin Duhamel. “A 2023 Russia-African Trade Summary”. Russia Briefing. February 2, 2023.
[15]Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld.“Putin courts Africa at summit, but many African leaders stay away”. Washington Post. July 26, 2023.
[16]Dr Alex Vines OBE and Tighisti Amare.“Russia-Africa summit fails to deliver concrete results”. Chatham House. August 2, 2023.
[17]Joseph Siegle. “Decoding Russia’s Economic Engagements in Africa”. Africa Centre for Strategic Studies. January 6, 2023.
[18]VadimZaytsev. Second Russia-Africa Summit Lays Bare Russia’s Waning Influence”. Carnegi Endowment for International Peace. July 31, 2023.
[19]Tafi Mhaka. “Africa, beware of Putin’s money promises”. Al Jazeera. July 27, 2023.
[20]Paul Melly. “Russia-Africa summit: Putin seeks to extend influence”. BBC. July 27, 2021.
[21]Maina Waruru.“Scholarships for Africans in Russia grow by 150%”. The Pie News. August 4, 2023.
[22]Declan Walsh and Paul Sonne. “War Brought Putin Closer to Africa. Now It’s Pushing Them Apart”. New York Times. July 26, 2023.
[23] “Big Rosoboronexport presence at upcoming Russia-Africa Summit”. Defence Web. July 25, 2023.
[24]Kathrin Wesolowski and Etienne Gatanazi. “Fact check: Russia's influence on Africa”. DW. July 27, 2023.
[25]Ray Ndlovu. “Russia’s Alrosa Discovers 22 New Diamond Deposits in Zimbabwe“.Bloomberg. September 27, 2022.
[26] “Russia's Rusal to build new alumina plant for $4.8 billion on the Baltic Sea”. Reuters. June 15, 2023.
[27]Russia's Rosatom to begin construction on El Dabaa NPP’s Unit 3 in Egypt”. BNE Intellinews. May 3, 2023.
[28] “Zimbabwe and Ethiopia sign nuclear energy cooperation agreements with Russia”. World Nuclear News. July 28, 2023.
[29]Chris Fleming. “The End of History: Francis Fukuyama’s controversial idea explained”. The Conversation. November 16, 2022.
[30]Miłosz Bartosiewicz. “Russian diplomacy is more active in Africa than ever”.Centre For Eastern Studies. June 9, 2023.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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