Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is on a multi-country trip to Africa. First stopping in Egypt, he is continuing on to Ethiopia, Uganda and the Congo, according to reports.
His trip comes at a sensitive time because of Western complaints that Russia’s war against Ukraine has harmed global food supplies. Russia, Turkey and Ukraine are working on some kind of agreement that will apparently let Turkey’s defense ministry play a role in exporting Ukrainian products.
Russia’s TASS state media says that “under the Russia-UN memorandum, the United Nations undertakes to work toward lifting anti-Russian restrictions hampering exports of agricultural products and fertilizers.
“Another document envisages a mechanism of exporting grain from Ukraine-controlled Black Sea ports,” it says. “An agreement between Russia, Turkey and the United Nations provides for the establishment of a four-side coordination center to search ships carrying grain to prevent weapons smuggling and avoid provocations.”
Putin visits Tehran
Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Tehran last week meeting with the Iranian regime and Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It appears that the grain export deal is linked to this meeting and that Lavrov is now off to Africa because Putin feels secure in how the war is progressing.
Putin and Lavrov wouldn’t both be out of the country on subsequent weeks unless things were going decently at home. At the same time, the meetings abroad show that Russia wants to shore up its power and image.
The National in the UAE noted that Lavrov’s trip was the “first stop of a four-nation African tour as part of a perceived effort to cement Moscow’s ties with allies that have resisted the West’s narrative of its war in Ukraine.”
The foreign minister met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. He also met the head of the Arab League. Russia told the Egyptians that it is trying to ease the export of grain to Egypt. “Egypt is prepared to support this track through its international contacts with all the relevant parties,” a statement from the Egyptian Presidential Office said.
Russia wants the Arab states to take a “balanced” approach to the conflict. This would contrast with the West’s pro-Ukraine approach. For Russia, just as during the Cold War, any non-aligned approach is one that benefits Moscow. Lavrov also pushed the new tune from Moscow, which tends to slam the West and praise the Global South.
“The world is much, much richer than just Western civilization. And, many of you representing the ancient civilizations, should know about this,” Lavrov said, according to reports. Lavrov and Putin believe that a new “multi-polar world” is emerging. The war in Ukraine was designed as a denouement to help bring in this new world order.
Russia's plan in Africa
Lavrov is now in the Congo, where he is also praising the country’s “neutrality,” Al-Ain reports. The Italian paper Corriere Della Sera notes that Russia’s Africa policy “has become a separate branch of foreign policy, with the appointment starting from 2011 of a Special Representative for Cooperation who has the same powers as a minister, capable of signing agreements in the metallurgical, mining and diamond sectors, but also military and security.”
The Italian reports note that Russia has tried to court African countries and that back in 2019, it hosted African leaders in Sochi. “Today it is precisely those African countries to which Putin constantly refers in his speeches on the construction of a new world order, detached from the West, [and] are the most affected by the war in Ukraine. First, because of the shortage of food, and then because of the fact that a large part of the European resources destined to aid poor countries have been directed to the reception of Ukrainian refugees.”
Lavrov has said that Russia and Turkey will work together to enable movement of ships from Ukraine. As such, the Turkish-Russian alliance will grow together with the movement of Ukrainian products. Russia will benefit by getting sanctions reduction and also appear to be “saving” its neutral friends in Africa from food shortages. Ukraine will still be occupied and bombarded.
The foreign minister explained this to the Arab League yesterday, stating that the Russia-UN memorandum signed in conjunction with the Istanbul agreements “binds the UN secretary-general to start the process, persuading Western countries to lift all restrictions” on the export of Russian wheat. Moscow even used the cover of the deal to carry out strikes on Odesa.
Lavrov wrote an article while traveling to Africa in which he says that Russia supports Africa “in its struggle to escape the eternal colonial yoke.” Moscow claims that sanctions have exacerbated “negative trends and dynamics” in the international market for basic necessities.
The Italian report wonders if this will be seen as giving enough attention for Moscow’s friends in Africa. The trip illustrates how Russia is able to use the Ukraine war to its benefit, blame the West for the food shortage caused by the war, and then leverage the war to get sanctions reduction and a closer alliance with Turkey.