The reality of the Russia-Africa Summit

The second Russia-Africa summit was held on July 27 and 28 in St Petersburg, the hometown of the head of the Kremlin. Despite pressure from the West, delegations from the continent’s countries were able to take part in the event, and a final declaration was adopted at the end, covering virtually all areas of cooperation.

Alexei Danichev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool

The Kremlin described the pressure exerted by the United States and its allies on participants at the event as « very harsh ». Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that almost all African states were under unprecedented pressure from the United States and its allies, who actively tried to prevent African representatives from attending the summit, hoping to disrupt the event. Pressure intensified after Russia withdrew from the grain agreement a few days before the St Petersburg event. They may have thwarted the determination of some heads of state, but they couldn’t spoil the cover story that went round the world: that of Vladimir Putin, backed by the support of the dark continent.

On the eve of the forum, African countries were expecting positive signals from Moscow for Russian-African cooperation, despite external difficulties. President Putin’s policy paper entitled ‘Russia and Africa: working together for peace, progress and a fruitful futureWe have responded to this expectation by ensuring the continuity of cooperation, particularly in the organization of grain and fertilizer deliveries, despite the sanctions and unfair working practices of the parties to the grain agreement. Vladimir Putin also expressed Russia’s full support for the promotion of Africa within the UN Security Council and the G20, without seeking to impose its ideas on African partners. The Russian leader’s article was widely covered by the African media.

The food issue was at the heart of the high-level discussions. Vladimir Putin took advantage of the many opportunities he had to speak to explain why he had abandoned the Ukrainian grain extraction initiative, and to reassure his African interlocutors of Russia’s determination to meet their needs, notably through grain donations. In particular, he pledged to supply Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Mali, Somalia and Zimbabwe with 25–50,000 tonnes of grain free of charge over the next three months, and to take charge of its transport, while denouncing the cynicism of Westerners who block Russian cargoes destined for the poorest countries in their ports: ‘Russia’s share of the world wheat market is 20%, Ukraine’s less than 5%. This means that Russia makes a significant contribution to global food security, and is a solid and responsible international supplier of agricultural products. And those who claim it’s not true […] are simply distorting the facts, telling untruths. In fact, this has been the practice in some Western countries for decades, even centuries.’.

Another important topic of discussion was the 10-point African initiative for peace in Ukraine, which Vladimir Putin commented on at length during his meeting with the press at the end of the summit. In his view, certain points in the initiative were unachievable at this stage, such as the ceasefire: ‘The Ukrainian army is advancing, attacking, implementing a large-scale strategic offensive. Why should we ask for a ceasefire? We can’t stop firing when we’re under attack’. Another related point — the peace talks: ‘I keep repeating that we have never refused to negotiate peace. But [chez les Ukrainiens] there is a decree prohibiting negotiations… […] For this process to begin, there must be agreement on both sides.’.

The program for the July 27–28 forum comprised four main thematic areas of cooperation between Russia and the countries of the continent: the economy, security and sovereign development, science and technology, and the humanitarian and social spheres. On the first day, discussions focused on cooperation in nuclear technology, space, food, sport and other areas. On the second day, guests discussed cooperation prospects in the fields of energy, science, information space security and the promotion of humanitarian policy in Africa. Side events were also planned, including a media forum, a congress of university rectors and a youth program. Finally, a separate block was devoted to cooperation in the field of medicine, with the « healthy society » program.

During the summit, there was a rich cultural program, with the ‘Seasons of St. Petersburg’ festival offering visits to more than 25 museums, exhibitions, a ballet festival and a film festival, as well as the ‘Stars of Africa’ gastronomic festival, with emblematic African dishes available in more than 20 restaurants. There was also a sports program including a race, a friendship soccer match between Russian and African diplomats, and a gala soccer match at the Gazprom Arena stadium.

At the end of the summit, thematic declarations were adopted, notably on cooperation in the field of international information security, on strengthening cooperation in the fight against terrorism and on the prevention of an arms race in space, as well as the ambitious action plan of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum for the period 2023–2026.

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