Yet again, many in the foreign media have failed to see the true significance of the Russian minister’s frequent visits to the continent By Vsevolod Sviridov, expert at the Centre for African Studies, Higher School of Economics, Moscow© Telegram/MID_Russia

This week marked the start of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s traditional annual tour to African countries. This time, he has focused on countries in the Sahel (such as Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Chad) and the Republic of the Congo. Last year in May, he visited East Africa, and in December, he was in the north of the continent.

Over the past year, Lavrov’s engagements with African politicians have become more frequent, transitioning from something exceptional a few years ago to now being seen as routine. The minister now speaks with Africa almost every week. In January, he met with representatives from the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in February with colleagues from Egypt, Mali, and South Africa, in March – Nigeria and Namibia, and in May, Sierra Leone, among other contacts. He has also had meetings with the King of Eswatini and phone calls with diplomats from various African countries.

It’s worth noting that Sergey Lavrov often easily finds a common language with African colleagues, many of whom studied in the USSR/Russia. For instance, the current head of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Timothy Musa Kabba, is a graduate of the St. Petersburg Mining University, while the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Congo, Jean-Claude Gakosso, studied at St. Petersburg State University (when it was still known as Leningrad University).

The intensity of these interactions is set to continue: following his tour, Lavrov will take part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), where the president of Zimbabwe is expected to attend, along with representative delegations from Sudan, Burkina Faso, and other countries. The BRICS summit is scheduled for October in Kazan, followed by the Russia-Africa ministerial conference in November. Despite this busy schedule and high frequency of contacts, it does not negatively affect their essence.

That’s so Chad: Another African country looking to ditch Paris for Moscow That’s so Chad: Another African country looking to ditch Paris for Moscow

Critics tended to view Lavrov’s African visits in 2022-2023 through the prism of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis – ostensibly in 2022, Lavrov went to Africa to explain Russian approaches, and in 2023 – the prospects of the Black Sea grain deal. At that time, there could be three or four high-level delegations from influential powers on the continent at once, seeking to win Africa over against the backdrop of events in Europe. By 2024, external factors have already become routine, African countries are unwaveringly following their course of neutrality, and the grain deal has ceased to exist – which, by the way, did not lead to catastrophic consequences for global food security. Despite this, the need for regular high-level contact remains.

Russia’s approach in Africa is becoming more comprehensive and proactive, and aims to inform other countries on the continent about its actions and intentions. By engaging on multiple fronts simultaneously, Moscow can pursue a balanced approach that considers the interests of the widest possible range of friendly forces, yielding positive results already.

During his visit to Guinea, Lavrov met with his counterpart, Morissanda Kouyate, and transitional president Mamadi Doumbouya to discuss the prospects for economic and military-technical cooperation, as well as in the field of medicine. Guinea stands out as one of the leaders on the continent by the volume of accumulated Russian investments due to RUSAL projects for bauxite mining and alumina production. Lavrov’s visit reaffirmed Conakry’s interest in maintaining friendly relations with Moscow.


© RT / RT

The visit is also important in the context that, despite being a country from which a series of coups started in 2019 in the Sahel region, Guinea has adopted a less anti-Western stance, has not expressed intentions to withdraw from ECOWAS or join the Alliance of Sahel States, and was the only coup-belt country not represented at the Russia-Africa Summit in 2023 at the head of state level. Discussions between Lavrov and Guinea’s leaders likely centered on the situation in the Sahel and West Africa as a whole.

Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Congo marks his second trip there since 2022. Despite the limited economic ties between the countries so far, these frequent visits are not unexpected. Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the president of the Republic of the Congo, is a significant and influential figure in African politics and plays a crucial role in shaping relationships among Central African nations. He chairs the African Union (AU) High-Level Committee on Libya, a special group established by the AU for mediation efforts in Libya. During Lavrov’s meeting, there was a clear alignment between the positions of Moscow and Brazzaville on the situation in Libya. Additionally, President Nguesso has been instrumental in advancing the African peace initiative on Ukraine.

Lavrov in Africa: How is Russia’s multipolar vision being realised? Lavrov in Africa: How is Russia’s multipolar vision being realised?

On the night of June 5, Lavrov arrived in Burkina Faso to inaugurate the Russian embassy. The moment is historic, marking the reestablishment of a previously closed diplomatic point (the Russian embassy in Ouagadougou had been shut since 1994). Plans are also in place to open a Russian embassy in Equatorial Guinea later this year, with discussions ongoing about establishing a diplomatic mission in Sierra Leone. Wrapping up his tour, Lavrov visited Chad, where Russia’s relations have been activated in recent months.

The Western media’s response to Lavrov’s visits has followed their usual narrative, linking his presence with terms like “coup,” “war,” and “Ukraine.” Allegations were made that Lavrov aimed to influence Sahel nations to remain neutral on the Ukraine issue. It goes against logic, however. It seems unlikely that the Russian foreign minister would need to advocate for neutrality, for instance, in Burkina Faso, where Russian military personnel have been stationed since January. It would be logical to go “fighting” for Africa in countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Angola, or Cape Verde, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited in January. Interestingly, despite both diplomats focusing primarily on West Africa, the lists of the countries they visited did not overlap, though almost six months divided them. Diplomatic intricacies indeed.

Russian-African relations are gradually becoming routine. No longer does a flashy headline or a major deal need to explain a visit by the Russian foreign minister to an African nation. And this is a good trend.