Photograph — Albawaba

Russia is set to solidify its economic and military position on the continent after a fresh agreement with the Republic of Congo over the peaceful use of atomic energy. The deal was signed during Congolese President, Denis Sassou Nguesso’s state visit to Moscow.

Director General of ROSATOM, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, Alexey Lichachev signed the agreement on behalf of Moscow, while Congolese Foreign affairs minister, Jean-Claude Gakosso, signed on behalf of Brazzaville.

The deal is expected to kick off an active “nuclear conversation” between both countries, with cooperation expanded to include nuclear infrastructure improvement, production of radioisotopes useful in industry, nuclear medicine and agriculture, as well as education and training of nuclear specialists for the nuclear industry. It is also the next step in bilateral conversations following the Roadmap signed in April in Sochi, Russia. Before that, there was an MoU signed between both nations in February 2018 in Moscow.

Russian president Putin told his Congolese counterpart, “It is not your first time in Russia. Our countries have always had friendly relations that have been developing this way for 55 years now. Our trade is growing – by over 60 percent – although, unfortunately, the numbers in absolute terms are still modest. But, we have good potential in several industries, such as energy, the processing industry and agriculture.”

In response, Congolese president Nguesso said, “We preside over the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. We are playing a stabilizing role in Africa that can bring peace to this region. We in our country want to stabilize the situation as a whole. We hope that Russia will act side by side with us to create peace in the African region.”

Russia deputy minister of defence Alexander Fomin, reportedly said that both countries were also negotiating arms transfers. “We expect that we will be requested to supply new equipment. There’s a need for it,” a probable reference to the conflict in the region.”

Both countries also reportedly agreed on settling Congo’s debt to Russia from previously issued loans, cooperation in agriculture, documents detailing Russia’s Lukoil and the State Oil company of the Republic of Congo as well as between Russia’s Pipe Metallurgical Company and the National Petroleum Company of the Congo.

This partnership adds heft to Russia’s influence on the continent after it reportedly signed about twenty military agreements with countries in sub-Saharan Africa last year. Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister toured Africa in 2018, emerging with multiple deals, many of which remain shrouded in secrecy.

Experts believe that Russia is deliberately widening its territory in Africa as a counter to fallouts from its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2015. According to Andrew Korybko, an American Moscow-based political analyst, Russia is consolidating “its corridor of influence across the continent from the Sudanese Red Sea coast to the Congolese Atlantic one via Central African Republic (CAR).”

Russia was “deliberate” in selecting its partners in Africa, according to French Africa expert, Roland Marchal. He said, “The relations between those countries and the West are, let us say, tense. Maybe Russia has a window of opportunity to enter, get easy influence and maybe develop some economic activities.”

On the other hand, Yevgeniy Korendyasov, of the Center for the Study of Russian-African Relations, last year hinted that Russia is strategically placing itself in the picture of Africa’s rapid development. “Modern-day Africa is a continent which is developing very fast. So its political and economic importance for international relations is increasing.”

Korendyasov also believes Russia wants to maintain partnerships with African nations “partly from a need for natural resources.” According to him, Russia has a shortage of manganese, chrome and uranium.

The play here is that while Russia knows it cannot match the US in wooing allies, it hopes to break in through the cracks of dissatisfaction, especially in places where conflict is ongoing, or election results are being contested. There’s an armed struggle ongoing in the Central African Republic, for instance. And Russia has sent a small contingent of forces to try to stabilize the country’s base.

There’s also the fact that Russian president Putin is a close friend of Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Concord group has multiple business interests in Congo. Finally, a third of Nguesso’s government, all in the delegation to Moscow, studied in Soviet and Russian universities.

Congo has an estimated 1.6 billion barrels of oil and 90 billion cubic meters of natural gas. With its economy making a slow recovery after a barrage of wars, the country will hope to fully exploit this partnership as it works to diversify its economy.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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