Photograph — The National

Over the next two days, close to 50 African leaders will be hosted by Russian President, Vladimir Putin for the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit scheduled to take place October 23-24 in Sochi.

The economic forum represents an official stamp on Moscow’s interest in returning to Africa. This comes amid the recent surge in economic, security, and political engagements between Russia and the continent.

With several African leaders and 3,000 delegates invited, the gathering is also seen as Russia’s effort to counter the influence of China, the United States, Europe, and Japan on Africa, all of which have their respective summits.

Washington holds U.S.-Africa Summit, China has a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Japan holds the Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD) conferences as well as the European Union (EU) with its Europe-Africa meetings.

President Putin will co-host the summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

No strings attached

In a pitch to African countries ahead of the event, Putin on Monday warned of rising competition over the continent while he accused the West of intimidating African countries to exploit their resources.

“We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin said in an interview with the TASS news agency.

“They are using such methods to try to return lost influence and dominance in their former colonies in a new guise and rushing to pump out maximum profits and to exploit the continent,” Putin said, referring to former colonial powers on the continent but without naming specific countries.

While aiming a dig at what he described as the ‘exploitative West,’ Putin clearly stated Moscow’s ambitions in Africa though with a different approach. Russia is ready to offer help without “political or other conditions,” and to embrace the principle of African solutions for African problems, Putin said.

What to expect from the summit

Despite its numerous activities on the continent in recent times, Russia still trails others in terms of trade value with Africa. According to Russia’s foreign ministry, there has been a 350 percent increase in trade with African countries over the past decade.

But Eurostat says Russia does not rank among Africa’s top five largest trade partners which are the EU, China, India, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Moscow’s trade with Africa stands at only $20 billion. That is half of Africa’s trade with France and about a tenth of China’s, which traded goods worth $204.19 billion with the continent last year. EU-Africa trade is valued at over $300 billion a year.

The summit is thus part of a bid to increase the value of trade with Africa. Putin, Moscow’s power centre for over two decades, will be looking to seal military and trade deals to power Russia’s economy in the coming years.

Expressing Moscow’s business interests on the continent, Putin said in the pre-summit statement that “Russian companies are ready to offer our African partners their scientific and technological developments and experience in modernizing energy, transport, and communication infrastructure.”

Besides, Russia will also be looking to secure greater political influence on Africa where 54 nations are member states of the United Nations (UN) and get a share in the continent’s mineral wealth. Major oil and raw-mineral agreements are likely to be signed along with several other smaller trade agreements.

Moscow will also look to create lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons. Reports say Kremlin officials and Russian businessmen hope the forum will lead to more arms sales and the acquisition of Russian nuclear power plants by African states.

There is a planned arm fair at the summit which will show Russian-made weapons such as missile and air defense systems as well as non-military equipment, Reuters says, citing the Almaz-Antey arms manufacturer.

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