It’s not just nuclear-capable jets arriving from Russia on the African continent this week – Russian influence is also coming in to land.
These two Tupolev strategic bombers arrived in South Africa on a training mission on Wednesday (October 23), coinciding with Russian President Vladimir Putin hosting dozens of African heads of state for a flagship summit.
Speaking in the southern Russian resort of Sochi, Putin said he wanted trade with the continent to double over the next four to five years and added that Moscow had written off over $20 billion of African debts.
“Russia is one of the top ten largest suppliers of food to the African market. We export more agricultural products to the markets of third countries than weapons. Weapons amount to around $15 billion while I think agricultural supplies make up about $25 billion. So, we have good growth potential, there is something to talk about.”
Before the event he accused Western governments of intimidating African nations to exploit their resources while Russia, he said, was ready to offer help without “political or other considerations”.
Among the meetings in Sochi, Putin sat down with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and more than a dozen senior officials – in what turned out to be a male only affair.
“Hardly any ladies here, ladies and gentlemen.”
Russian media said a deal had been signed to supply Nigeria with 12 Russian-made attack helicopters.
Putin also congratulated Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed on his recent Nobel Peace Prize; Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom is reportedly in talks with Ethiopia to build a nuclear power station there.
The prize for Putin is greater political clout on a continent with 54 United Nations member states, vast mineral wealth and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons.
But he’s starting from a low base.
Russia says its trade with African countries rose to $20 billion last year. But it did not rank among the continent’s five largest trade partners – the European Union, China, India, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. officials have vowed to counter what they see as Moscow’s growing political and economic clout in Africa.