Tue, 11 Aug 2020

Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi is hosting dozens of African leaders as Moscow looks to gain an edge in the race against other world powers to increase influence in Africa.

President Vladimir Putin will open the two-day Russia-Africa Summit on October 23 alongside his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the current head of the African Union and co-chair of the gathering.

The Kremlin has said 43 of Africa's 54 heads of state or government had confirmed their participation at the event, and Putin has scheduled 13 bilateral meetings with leaders of the continent.

Western countries and China already have a firm foothold in Africa, where other states such as Russia and India are also looking to gain influence given the continent's growing importance as a burgeoning hub for innovation, population growth, and a fast-growing consumer base.

Moscow was a key player there during the Soviet era, but its influence declined following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, China has emerged as a top power in Africa, pouring tens of billions of dollars over the past 20 years into countries with sometimes controversial rights records in order to gain access to their riches.

In an interview with state news agency TASS published ahead of the summit, Putin said that Russian assistance or loans will be based on the principle of 'African solutions to African problems,' instead of meeting benchmarks imposed from abroad.

The Russian president touted his country's 'debt-for-development swap programs' that aren't 'contingent upon...preconditions' that shackle a country's 'trade and economic preferences.'

'We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation, and blackmail of sovereign African governments,' Putin told TASS.

Amid a stagnating economy following years of Western sanctions, Moscow is looking for opportunities to boost growth.

Trade between Russia and Africa amounted to $20 billion last year, a tenth of that of China.

The race for African partners is also being stirred by politics.

Gaining influence on the ground can translate into closer diplomatic ties at organizations such as the United Nations, where votes are often at a premium.

Putin cited Russia's military agreements and arms deals, as well as a $25 billion loan to Egypt to build four electrical power units and $20 billion of debt relief to African countries as examples of how cooperation is already intertwined.

He also cited a history of Russian universities providing professional training to specialists from Africa as part of the broad spectrum of sectors Moscow sees as opportunities to bolster ties.

With reporting by AFP and TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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