top of page
  • Daniel Rakov

Doing More with Less: Russia as a Rising Power in Africa

Tenacity, a diverse toolbox, and few moral or operational inhibitions will allow Russia to deepen its presence in Africa in the upcoming years, despite its inferiority in many fields vis-à-vis other global powers. Since the Kremlin’s African policy is a continuation of its Middle Eastern one, Israeli policymakers should closely follow Russia’s actions in the continent

Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, October 2019. Putin's Power Test on the Continent | Photo: The Kremlin, "Russia-Africa Summit", October 24, 2019, CC BY 4.0

(Editor's note: The English version of this article includes minor updates of the original Hebrew version, which was published on July 1, 2021)

In October 2019, the leaders of most of Africa's nations convened in Sochi, Russia, for the first "Russia-Africa Summit", co-led by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in his capacity as president of the African Union.[1] Moscow's purpose behind the summit was to signal its intention to deepen its involvement in Africa.

The continent isn't at the top of Moscow's foreign-policy agenda,[2] and Russia isn't the leading global power operating there. But Moscow has stepped up its involvement there in the last decade, tightening its ties with practically every country on the continent.

The "African vector" suits Russia's unique “great power model” and will likely strengthen it in its escalating confrontation with the West. Given its persisting economic weakness compared with the West or China, Russia has developed a cost-effective competition model: It competes with the West mainly in the theaters it finds convenient, and its influence is based on levers in a handful of tightly focused, strategically important areas for its African partners (diplomatic support, security cooperation, arms sales, and strategic infrastructure projects – chiefly energy), rather than on blanket economic dominance or formal alliances.

The fact that almost all the African leaders turned up for the Sochi Summit despite the “great power” rivalry indicates that the Kremlin has strengthened its influence in the continent. Yet for all its apparent successes, some doubt that Moscow will manage to consolidate an orderly strategy for Africa and rack up achievements beyond this type of impressive group photos.[3]

Since Moscow's African strategy is clearly related to its strategy for the Middle East, its actions warrant scrutiny by decision-makers in the West, including in Israel. This article reviews the interests Russia hopes to promote by means of its African involvement as part of the mounting competition, characterizes the tools and mechanisms Russia is using to achieve its ends, analyses the balance of Moscow’s accomplishments and constraints in Africa, and addresses their implications for Israel.

Russia's interests in Africa

Russia's renewed interest in Africa in the last decade is mainly a corollary of its deteriorating relations with the United States and European Union. Even before former U.S. president Donald Trump made the competition between the superpowers the main focus of America's national security strategy, Russia had been operating in Africa based on much the same paradigm.

Since the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, Russia has had a growing interest in gaining the support of African countries in order to challenge the legitimacy of the U.S. and of international institutions led by the West. This approach dates back to the unilateral foreign policy pursued by the George W. Bush administration and Moscow’s notion that the West is ignoring its interests.[4] Aided by the “Non-Aligned Movement”, in which African countries comprise almost half, Russia often manages to push resolutions through the UN General Assembly and other international institutions, leaving the West in a minority position.[5]

The worse relations became between Moscow and Washington and Brussels – especially after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian meddling in the U.S. election in 2016 – the broader Russia's interests in Africa became. Moscow aspires to achieve diplomatic influence, to bolster its image as a truly global power, to undermine the influence of Western democracies in the continent, to build military outposts, and to find new markets for Russian goods and capital (given that trade with Europe and other partners has declined). But mainly, it wants to open doors for its strategic economic sectors – arms exports, the supply and development of natural gas, oil, nuclear energy, exploitation of natural resources, space and agriculture produce – as anchors for influence.


More than anything, Russia is interested in opening doors for the strategic sectors in its economy


While Moscow aspires to upgrade relations with all of Africa's nations, in practice it is focusing its efforts on North Africa as part of its Middle Eastern policy. Russia aspires to become a major military and diplomatic power in the Mediterranean, inter alia, to increase its ability to apply pressure on Europe and NATO. The North African coast is perceived as having great potential from that perspective.

Russian policy south of the Sahara is less clear-cut and the resources that it, or its proxies, are prepared to invest there are more limited. An Israeli diplomat serving in East Africa told this author that Russia is not considered a significant actor by the nations of that region.[6]

Despite its inferior starting point, Russia's ties with that part of the continent have been growing expediently in recent years.[7] Several elements help Moscow pursue its ambitions in Africa: The U.S.'s limited interest in the continent; reduced investment there by European nations; and the Africans' mounting frustrations with China.

Simultaneously, Moscow's agile and practically unshackled decision-making, its ability to concentrate its efforts on certain countries and to bring all its state mechanisms and private actors into play in a relatively concentrated manner, have brought it opportunities which it has successfully exploited. Russia indeed suffers failures and setbacks in Africa time and again, but since its investments are relatively small, it still perceives the balance as favorable.

Even though the U.S. recently stated that it means to step up its involvement in Africa,[8] the annual U.S. intelligence assessment from April 2021 mentions the continent in just one paragraph towards the end of the document.[9] This reflects the continent's marginal status among the Biden administration's priorities.[10]

The commander of the US military’s African command (AFRICOM) also warned in April 2021 that Russia and China are prioritizing Africa more than the U.S.[11] In that respect, the Russian-American dynamic in the Biden era is likely to continue that which developed under the Trump administration: the U.S. striving to curtail Russia's influence, while Russia seeking out opportunities to work with actors in conflict with the U.S., or which are on the fringes of Washington's interest.

Other than the U.S., Russia's conflicts of interest with other international actors in Africa are not very significant. No real competition has arisen between Moscow and Beijing on the continent, so far; if anything, they often collaborate against Washington, and endeavor to minimize friction between themselves. The fact that Africa is not at the top of either’s agenda helps them compromise when conflicts of interest do crop up.

Furthermore, Russia took care to build coalitions focusing on the continent with actors from the Middle East (for example, with Egypt and the UAE in Libya and Sudan),[12] or alternatively, to leverage a broader relationship to mitigate the tension in Africa (for example, cooperating with Turkey in Libya).[13]

Regarding Israel, in public Russia applauds the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries in Africa. Yet these agreements are not entirely to its liking because Moscow itself was left outside of the process. Its latest move in Sudan (more on that below) may have stemmed, among other things, from a desire to demonstrate relevance as the U.S. took credit for the normalization agreements between Israel and Sudan and Morocco. Despite these caveats, Russia is nevertheless studying how to leverage these new ties to forge regional collaborations in which Moscow can take a part.[14]

Diplomatic and political involvement

Unlike the Soviet era, Russia is not trying to impose a certain ideology, not in Africa nor anywhere else. That said, it is positioning itself as the most vocal challenger to the Western-liberal order, and to Western dominance in the international arena.

The Russians punctiliously wrap their messages to African representatives in anti-colonialist rhetoric. They define the West's efforts to promote democratization, liberal values, and human rights – or, alternatively, its imposition of economic sanctions – as “neo-colonialism.”[15] This approach is viewed favorably by many of the continent’s regimes, which can use Russian assistance to strengthen the legitimacy of their rule, or try to exploit the great powers’ competition to strengthen their bargaining position vis-à-vis the West.


The Russians are careful to cloak their messages in front of African representatives in anti-colonial rhetoric


South Africa, for instance, became a key objective for Russia in the 2000s because of its leading status on the continent, especially in the African Union. When Jacob Zuma was elected president in 2009, Putin found in him an ally for the Russian anti-Western agenda, and agreed to add Pretoria to the BRICS group. This forum was intended, from Moscow's perspective, to present an alternative leadership in the international community, challenging the G7 led by Washington and its allies. Zuma’s long-term relationship with Moscow – he had undergone training in the USSR as part of the fight against the Apartheid regime – helped tighten the ties between the Kremlin and Pretoria.[16]

The "Arab Spring" which erupted in the Middle East and North Africa in late 2010 became part of a series of crises that shook Russia's relations with the West. The "hotspots" in the region were key platforms on the international agenda for Moscow to confront the U.S. head-on, in its attempt to establish itself is a global power. For example, the dispute over the fate of Muammar Qaddafi's regime in Libya in 2011 stood out as a watershed moment in Moscow-Washington relations, and effectively put an end to prior efforts for a "reset".

Russia (and China) indeed abstained in the UN Security Council vote in March 2011 that established a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya. But in Putin's view, the West had deceived Russia because under the pretext of the NFZ, the NATO Alliance helped topple the Qaddafi regime without seeking further approval from the UNSC – thereby circumventing a Russian veto.[17]

Putin's opposition to the Western approach, which viewed the fall of the autocratic secular Arab regimes in North Africa and the Middle East in a positive light, was bound up with his fear for the stability of his regime at home. In parallel with the revolutions in the Arab world, mass protests developed in Russia in 2010-2012 against the idea of Putin regaining the presidency.[18] The American administration and Europe applauded the protesters in both Russia and the Arab world. According to the official narrative Putin has since adopted, the protests in both were caused by illegitimate Western meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations.

In 2014, following Russia's annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, a rift opened between Russia and the West. Western countries imposed sanctions on Moscow, aimed at isolating it diplomatically and exacting an economic price. Russia subsequently began pursuing relations with non-Western nations, including in Africa, to prove to the West that the drive to isolate it had failed.

The first overseas visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi, at the time still a military dictator, was to Moscow, in February 2014, at the height of the crisis between Russia and the West over Ukraine and ten days before the Russian operation to annex Crimea. Russia had discerned al-Sisi's dissatisfaction with the Obama administration, which had tried to dissuade him from vying for the presidency, and the Kremlin provided him its full political support. Ever since, Egypt has been a key part of Russia's strategy in Africa: its bilateral ties with Egypt are the broadest, and Russia aims to take advantage of Cairo's leading role in the African Union to deepen its influence there.[19]


Russia's military involvement in Africa's conflicts is often carried out by "mercenaries" in order to maintain plausible deniability


Russia's intervention in Syria, which began in 2015, and the long-term lease of military bases there, strengthened Moscow’s political status in the Middle East and North Africa. It also proved to be a platform to showcase its military power in Africa, leading to collaborations with Middle Eastern actors there. In 2017, Russia deepened its involvement in the conflict in Libya and quickly became one of the prominent actors there, in collaboration with Egypt and the UAE.[20] That year Russia also began to engage itself militarily and politically with the Central African Republic (CAR), after France decided to withdraw its forces from it.[21]

Russia's involvement in the conflicts in Libya and the CAR illustrates several characteristics of its policy for the continent. It does not shy from intervening in nations in chaos so long as it has a local partner. In Libya it allied with Egypt, the UAE and the LNA forces led by General Khalifa Haftar. In the CAR, the Russians were invited in by President Touadéra, who could boast the legitimacy of having been elected.

In Libya, on the other hand, the Kremlin maintained ties with all the rival political factions, in keeping with its policy of talking with everybody to leave diplomatic options open. Thus, for example, when its main local partner, Haftar, took a drubbing in the summer of 2020, Moscow stepped up the dialog with his rivals and with other global actors, to preserve its influence over developments in the country.[22]

Russia's military involvement in Libya and the CAR was accompanied by increasing diplomatic activity in their neighbor countries and vis-à-vis the global powers. Russia aspires to convert its political influence into contracts – for infrastructure and energy in Libya (which aren't secure yet), and for mining in the CAR.

Now, in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia would also like to become one of Africa's main vaccine suppliers, through co-manufacturing contracts or acquisition from it. As of writing Russia hasn't actually managed to produce or export vaccines in mass quantities, and it remains to be seen how successful its vaccination diplomacy will be on the continent.[23]

Military and political involvement

Russia's activity on the military and security fronts is a force multiplier for its diplomatic clout in Africa, although formally it does not participate in conflicts there. This involvement includes military cooperation (training in Russian military education institutions, joint exercises, military diplomacy), signing agreements for the deployment or permanent presence of Russian soldiers, ships, and aircraft in African countries, selling arms, and fielding mercenaries.

Russia is interested in establishing permanent army bases in Africa – in the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea – to better project its military might in these regions.[24] However, it is yet to be seen if it succeeds doing so. In November 2020, Moscow widely touted the ratification of an agreement to lease part of the Port Sudan base for 25 years, claiming the Sudanese government had accepted it.[25] Russian deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin said the new base would contribute to maritime security in the area because Africa and the Middle East are key areas for Russia, which is gradually expanding its presence there.[26]

In the months that followed, the interim government in Sudan has avoided confirming the reports on the lease. In April-June it turned out that Khartoum was not in fact on board, arguing that the agreement had been signed by the previous government under the ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir. Pundits around the world and in the region suggested that the U.S. was behind this development. During a photo-op with the Sudanese foreign minister in Moscow in late June, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov claimed he was assured that Khartum will start soon the ratification of the agreement on the base lease. There were signs that the Russians conditioned their support for the 46-billion-dollar deal on restructuring Sudan’s external debt (that required approval by consensus from all the international loaners in July) on a positive attitude by Khartum on the Port Sudan issue. What goes on behind the scenes is unclear, but it appears that Russia attempted to take advantage of the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations to set up a permanent presence in Africa. The Russians seem to be pursuing a rearguard campaign to extract agreement from the Sudanese about a military presence on their soil, and the following months will show, whether they succeed.[27]

In general, Russia handles its military involvement in conflicts in Africa through mercenaries, which it refers to as ChVK - "private military companies" (PMCs). They provide it deniability and lower the economic and political costs versus fielding its regular military forces.[28] The most renown of these companies, ChVK Wagner, is believed to be owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a notoriously famous businessman with strong connections to President Putin. Wagner has forces stationed in Libya, the CAR and Sudan, among other places.[29] Its fighters were also deployed against rebels in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, in 2019, but retreated after suffering heavy casualties.[30]

Western governments, investigative journalists, and academic research in recent years have found that in at least some cases, Wagner had been hired by the Russian Ministry of Defense and other government institutions. While other countries employ PMCs in Africa, in Russia these entities are illegal, which enables Moscow to publicly shake off responsibility for their actions.[31]

Similarly, since 2017 Russia has been escalating its involvement in the Libyan civil war. Russian mercenaries and arms, apparently funded by the UAE, arrived in the country to support Hafter and his forces with the help of Egypt, contributing to the broad offensive Hafter led in 2019-2020 against the government in Tripoli (the GNA). However, Turkey's military intervention on Tripoli's behalf in 2020 sent Hafter's forces into retreat and stirred fear of an indirect clash between Russia and Turkey on Libyan soil.

To secure its interests and deter Turkey, in the summer of 2020, Russia deployed fighter jets in Libya, in the guise of moving arms out of Syria, and shifted Wagner fighters to the Jufra-Sirt line in the center of the country, where they have since been entrenching themselves.[32] Yet Moscow insists that it isn't operating military forces in Libya.[33]

Despite tensions, Russia and Turkey reached a compromise enabling both to establish a military presence in Libya, disregarding calls from the West for all foreign forces to leave.[34] Russia's involvement in Libya compelled all the other foreign actors there, especially the Western nations, to engage with the Kremlin about developments in the riven country, though they would prefer to reduce the need for dialog with Putin.

A Ugandan soldier in a training exercise, in 2009. Russia does not reveal the volume of arms sales to African countries | Photo: U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, 2009,, CC BY 2.0 - image cropped

Arms sales

According to the latest figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world's leading authority on arms trade, Russia is the largest arms supplier to Africa, including in the sub-Saharan region.[35] Russian military equipment is sold around the continent with few strings attached (unlike Western weaponry) and is priced more attractively. Russia has also proven resilient to Western pressure in this context, which could bolster its customers' confidence.

In recent years Algeria, the biggest arms importer in Africa, has been buying mostly from Russia (an increase of 50 percent in the last five years), thus becoming Moscow's third largest market for arms exports after India and China. Russia is also the biggest arms supplier to Egypt: in the last five years Russian arms exports to Egypt leaped by 430 percent.[36]

However, since 2017, any country buying arms from Russia risks running afoul of American sanctions, following legislation (CAATSA, section 231) aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.[37] The sanctions succeeded in reducing the reported volume of Russian military exports.[38] One conspicuous example is the sale of Russian SU-35 fighter jets to Egypt. The aircraft were manufactured back in 2020, but as of writing, Egypt has avoided taking delivery for fear of the American sanctions.[39]

For their part, the Russians claim the sanctions have not hurt their exports (there may be transactions that are not publicly disclosed). Meanwhile the Russian military industry has become more dependent on the African market: according to statements from high-level Russian military officers in 2020 and 2021, Africa and the Middle East now constitute 50 percent of Russia's arms exports. But Russia tends towards ambiguity: the figures for North Africa are included in both sales to the Middle East and to Africa, obscuring the true picture of the sales to Africa.[40]

Information warfare

Putin's ally Prigozhin is involved in supplying auxiliary “gray-zone” services to the Russian government, including in Africa. He is also associated with "troll farms" that distribute disinformation in several languages on the internet and on social media. In recent years, investigations by Western journalists and the Russian opposition found that since 2017, entities controlled by Prigozhin had been working along several lines in Africa. Thus, "political technologists" (a common Russian term) operating on his behalf have allegedly tried to generate political influence in about 20 African countries, including during elections. Most of these attempts reportedly flopped due to inadequate knowledge of the local political and culture environment, as they attempted to manipulate public opinion using methods deemed effective in Russia, without adapting them sufficiently to the reality in Africa.[41]

Prigozhin's "troll farms" in Nigeria and Ghana were run by locals, but Facebook and Twitter shut them down in the spring of 2020 out of concern that they were promoting illegitimate political influences ahead of the U.S. election in November that year.[42] Prigozhin's entities also set up media networks operating in Africa and beyond for the purpose of supporting Russia's and his own activities on the continent.[43]

But Prigozhin merely represents a broader phenomenon: the symbiotic activity of Russian state mechanisms with national and private economic entities, which operate around the world, particularly in Africa, serving Moscow's national goals. However, sometimes it is the Russian companies’ economic interests in the target countries that turn them into semi-independent actors spearheading Russia's state policy.

Caution is due when assessing Russia's success in its attempts to wield political influence in Africa. Firstly, it bears noting that most of the information published on the matter originates in sources working against the Kremlin – Western intelligence agencies and the Russian opposition. Secondly, efforts to create political influence in Africa are relatively new, and the Russians may learn from their mistakes and improve.

In that context, research on Africa has been flourishing in Russia in recent years, mainly based on INAFRAN (the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences), which has published hundreds of books on the continent. These may narrow knowledge gaps and become an important learning tool. INAFRAN director Irina Abramova plays a leading role in formulating Russian policy for Africa,[44] and in organizing the second Russia-Africa Summit, scheduled for 2022.

Civic and economic cooperation

The Russians were impelled since 2014 to seek new markets for their goods, due to the Western sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy. They perceive Africa as having untapped economic potential. From 2013 to 2018, trade between Russia and Africa grew rapidly, doubling to $20.4 billion.[45]

The increase looks impressive in relative terms, but absolute figures paint a different picture: even after that spurt, Russia remains a minor trading partner in Africa, compared with China ($204 billion in 2018),[46] the EU ($278 billion in 2018) [47] and the U.S. ($62 billion in 2018).[48] Furthermore, the rapid increase in trade is explained by the low starting point and dominance of several large intergovernmental contracts. It is far from certain that trade will continue to grow this fast in the future: in 2019, even before Covid-19, for example, it shrank to $16.8 billion.[49] Finally, the increase in trade is not uniform; about 60 percent of it is with Egypt and Algeria, and only 25% with the sub-Saharan nations.[50]

A nuclear power plant in South Africa, in 2006. A dubious nuclear reactor deal with the Kremlin toppled former President Zuma in 2018 | Photo: Philipp P Egli, "Koeberg Nuclear Power Station," Wikipedia, CC-BY-3.0 - image cropped

What relative advantages does Russia offer Africa? The most obvious area is energy, where Russia has considerable clout as a leading oil and gas exporter. Since OPEC Plus’ establishment in 2017, Russia has played a key role in controlling global oil prices. The organization provides the Kremlin indirect influence on the economies of oil and gas exporting African nations (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Congo, Nigeria, Angola and others), amounting to billions of dollars a year, which aren't included in trade volume calculations. Russian energy companies are active in developing gas and oil projects on the continent and hope to increase their share – for instance in Sudan, Egypt or Nigeria.

Africa is also key to Russia's ambition to establish itself as the leading exporter of nuclear power plants (NPPs). Russia entered into agreements to collaborate on atomic energy with ten African nations, most of them signed in the last ten years, and offers relaxed financing terms for the reactors. Exporting NPPs will create dependencies between Russia and the buyers, which will have to rely on it for nuclear fuel and technical support for decades to come. The deals were panned by international critics, yet African nations also caution that infrastructure projects of this magnitude are too expensive for the poor nations among the buyers.[51]


Russian weapons sold to areas of Africa near Israel could challenge its military superiority in this area


Russia's flagship NPP project is four reactors under construction in Al-Dabaa, Egypt. Almost the entire $25 billion tab is being funded by Moscow. Cairo will only start to repay when the reactors are operational, which is expected by the decade's end. It is also engaged in relatively advanced negotiations with Nigeria and Algeria on NPPs’ supply.[52]

On the other hand, Russian attempts to sell reactors to South Africa fell through, culminating in President Zuma's resignation in 2018. Zuma was accused of pursuing a deal for eight reactors at a cost of up to $75 billion, bypassing the standard regulatory procedures, and faces charges of corruption. Russia is perceived as having pressed Pretoria too hard to approve the deal, and its image in South Africa suffered a strong blow.[53]

In addition, Russian companies specializing in raw materials are relatively prominent in the international market. They are seeking opportunities in Africa for their own direct benefit, but they could also significantly affect the state of the African economies through price fixing, or competition in pricing. For instance, Russian diamond monopoly “Alrosa” enjoys significant influence in Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Russia’s importance as a supplier of wheat to Africa, mainly to its northern nations, is also increasing.[54]

Summary and significance for Israel

Russia's influence in Africa is undoubtedly rising. However, it is early days to speak of Moscow as a dominant actor there, because it focuses its activity mainly on North Africa and connects it to its policy in the Middle East. Its maneuvers south of the Sahara remain limited. In any case, Russia's mounting interest in Africa is designed mainly to advance specific geopolitical, military and economic interests at minimal economic and political cost.

Despite its many constraints, mainly financial, Moscow headed for Africa armed with resolve, an extensive toolbox, and the willingness to take risks. This combination could ultimately increase its influence on the continent as a whole, or at least in select countries. From the perspective of an authoritarian African regimes, Russia can assist in with their existential problems - ranging from defense against external enemies, armaments supply, energy exploration, food security, coronavirus morbidity, or weakening the internal opposition.

Beyond Moscow's ambitions and capabilities, the dynamics of the great power competition in Africa matter a great deal. If the Biden administration and its European partners actively engage in the continent and set out to curb Moscow's influence, Russia's momentum could be arrested. A second Russia-Africa Summit in 2022[55] may serve as a litmus test for its progress since 2019.

It is imperative for Israel to take note that the Middle East – especially the Russian military presence in Syria – serves, among other things, as a strategic and operative springboard for Russia to project power in Africa. The main foci of Moscow's African policy – Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and the Mediterranean and the Red Sea basins – are all in proximity to Israel. Insofar as Russia deepens its influence in these areas, Israel will have to broaden the topics of dialog with it. For instance, the Kremlin has an interest in preventing Israel and Egypt from building a gas pipeline to Europe, which could reduce Russia's share in the European gas market.

Russian arms sales to regions in Africa in proximity to Israel could challenge Israel's military superiority – a threat already taking shape in Russia's extensive arms sales to Egypt. Russia deepening its military presence in Sudan or Libya could curtail the IDF's freedom of action in these arenas, if it becomes necessary, for instance to thwart arms smuggling, or damage Iranian presence.

On the economic front, Israeli military,[56] agricultural or technological exports to Africa could compete directly with Russian companies. Beyond the political conflicts of interest that could ensue, the decentralized way Russia operates in Africa – with corporate actors such as Prigozhin operating in "gray-zone" while being fully backed by the Kremlin – could turn Israeli individuals and companies into targets of negative campaigns by entities affiliated with Russia. In this respect, there is a risk of clashing with Russian mercenaries in Africa, though its weight and probability are hard to estimate without concrete context.

That said, Russia's multi-pronged moves to strengthen its relations with all of Africa's nations are being pursued while Israel is making similar efforts. These parallel processes could create spaces for economic or political collaboration, where the two complement each other in Africa. There exist prospects for multilateral collaborations, for instance with the Emirates or other Gulf kingdoms, which are important Russian partners across Africa.


Daniel Rakov, Lieutenant Colonel (res.) in the Israel Defense Forces, is a research fellow in the “Russian Studies” program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv . His expertise is Russian policy and Great Power Competition in the Middle East. He has recently published articles and Op-Eds in Foreign Policy, Middle East Institute, The National Interest, Times of Israel and other Hebrew publications. Before joining the INSS, he completed a 21-year career in the IDF, mainly in the Israeli Defense Intelligence (AMAN)

(Photo: courtesy of the author)



[1] Russia-Africa Economic Forum, October 23-24, 2019.

[2] The updated version of “The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation,” published 2016, also places Africa last in its list of Moscow’s geopolitical priorities. Africa is also essentially listed last in the recent (July 2, 2021) edition of “The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation”.

[3] Kalika, Arnaud, “Russia’s 'Great Return' to Africa?,” Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 114, April 2019.

[4] Stronsky, Paul, “Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa,” Carnegie Endowment, October 16, 2019, p.3.

[5] For an example how African votes helped Russia defend its stance on the chemical weapons treaty, see: Stricker, Andrea, “OPCW Member States Must Counter Russian Obstruction”, FDD, April 8, 2021.

[6] Conversation with an Israeli diplomat serving in Western Africa, held in March 2021.

[7] Faleg, Giovanni and Secrieru Stanislav, “Russia’s Forays into Sub-Saharan Africa,” EU Institute for Security Studies, March 31, 2020.

[8] Chutel, Lynsey, “The United States Returns to Africa”, Foreign Policy, March 24, 2021.

[9] “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, April 9, 2021.

[10] Blinken, Antony J., “A Foreign Policy for the American People,” Speech, State Department, Washington, DC, March 3, 2021; Chutel, “The United States Returns to Africa.”

[11] Garamone, Jim, “Commander says Africa is too important for Americans to ignore,” DoD News, Arlington, Virginia, April 22, 2021.

[12] Ramani, Samuel, “Russia and the UAE: An Ideational Partnership,” Middle East Policy, April 25, 2020.

[13] Ramani, Samuel, “Russia’s Strategic Transformation in Libya: A Winning Gambit?” Commentary, RUSI, April 28, 2021.

[14] Based, inter alia, on Track-2 negotiations with Russian officials, in which the author participated in between December 2020 and July 2021.

[15] Fituni, L. L., “Dovesti do Konca Process Dekolonizacii,”Journal of the Institute for African Studies, No. 4 (53), 2020.

[16] Weiss, Andrew S., and Rumer Eugene, “Nuclear Enrichment: Russia’s Ill-Fated Influence Campaign in South Africa,” Carnegie Endowment, December 16, 2019, pp. 7-9.

[17] Heistein, Ari, “U.S.-Russia Relations Following the 2011 NATO Intervention in Libya,” Global Relations Forum, Policy Paper Series No.12, June 2020.

[18] After two terms as President, between 2008 and 2012 Putin vacated the Presidential Office and assumed the office of the Prime Minister. Dmitry Medvedev served as President until Putin could run again for President in 2012.

[19] Berman, Lazar and Moshe Albo, “Egypt’s Strategic Balancing Act between the US and Russia,” JISS, April 5, 2020.

[20] Ramani, “Russia’s Strategic Transformation in Libya.”

[21] Searcey, Dionne, “Gems, Warlords and Mercenaries: Russia's Playbook in Central African Republic,” The New York Times, September 30, 2019.

[22] Ramani, “Russia’s Strategic Transformation in Libya.”

[24] Nemtsova, Anna, “Russia Looks to Africa to Extend Its Military Might,” The Daily Beast, August 8, 2020.

[25] Isachenkov, Vladimir, “Russia to establish navy base in Sudan for at least 25 years,” AP, December 8, 2020.

[26] Stepanov, Alexander, “Krasnoye More pod Kilem,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 27, 2020.

[28] Marten ,Kimberly, “The GRU, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russia’s Wagner Group: Malign Russian Actors and Possible U.S. Responses,” Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment United States House of Representatives, July 7, 2020, pp. 6-8.

[29] Dalaa, Mustapha and Afra Aksoy Halime, “Russia's Wagner Group reportedly deployed in Africa,” Anadolu, March 5, 2021.

[30] Simonson, Ben, “Mozambique and the Fight Against Insurgency,” Global Risk Insights, February 8, 2021.

[31] Rácz, András, “Band of Brothers: The Wagner Group and the Russian State,” CSIS, September 21, 2020, “The GRU,” p. 6.

[32] Everstine, Brian W., “AFRICOM: Russia Expanding Its Presence in Libya,” Airforce Magazine, July 24, 2020.

[34] “Russia and the Wagner Group continue to be involved in ground, air operations in Libya,” United States Africa Command Public Affairs, Stuttgart, Germany, July 24, 2020.

[36] Ibid.

[37] 115th Congress Public Law 44, “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, CAATSA,” Section 231.

[38] “International arms transfers level off after years of sharp growth; Middle Eastern arms imports grow most, says SIPRI,” SIPRI, March 15, 2021; Wezeman, Pieter D., Fleurant Aude, Alexandra Kuimova, Diego Lopes Da Silva, Tian Nan and Siemon T. Wezeman, “Trends in International arms transfers 2019,” SIPRI, March, 2020; Wezeman, Pieter D., Alexandra Kuimova and Siemon T. Wezeman, “Trends in International arms transfers 2020,” SIPRI, March, 2021.

[41] Rozhdestvensky, Ilya , Rubin, Michael and Badanin, Roman, “Master and Chef: How Russia interfered in elections in twenty countries,” Proekt, April 11, 2019.

[42] “Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections,” National Intelligence Council, 15 March 2021, p. 3; Culliford, Elizabeth, “Facebook, Twitter remove Russia-linked accounts in Ghana targeting U.S.,” Reuters, March 12 2020.

[45] Kortunov, Andrey, Nataliya Zaiser, Elena Kharitonova, Lora Chkoniya, Gabriel Kotchofa and Dmitry Ezhov, “Africa-Russia+: Achievements, Problems, Prospects,” RIAC, 2020, p. 45.

[46] “Statistics on China-Africa Trade in 2018,” Ministry of Commerce People’s Republic of China, January 26, 2019.

[47] “Africa-EU – International Trade in Goods Statistics,” Eurostat Statistics Explained, April, 2021.

[48] “Trade in Goods with Africa,” United States Census Bureau.

[49] Abramova I. and Fituni L., “Novaya Strategiya Rossii na Afrikanskom Napravlenii,” Mirovaya Ekonomika I Mezhdunarodnyye Otnosheniya, 63 (12), 2019, pp. 90-10; “Russia-China Bilateral Trade Hit US$110 Billion in 2019 – What Is China Buying?” Russia Briefing, January 14, 2020.

[52] “Nuclear Power in Russia,” World Nuclear Association, April 2021.

[53] Weiss and Rumer, “Nuclear Enrichment,” pp. 9-15.

[54] Faleg and Secrieru, “Russia’s Forays into Sub-Saharan Africa,” pp. 2-4.

[56] Salman, Yaron, “The Security Element in Israel-Africa Relations,” Strategic Assessment, 24:2, April 2021, pp. 38-53.


bottom of page