Russia was on Wednesday marketing its green credentials as the inaugural summit with Africa’s leaders kicked off in Sochi with trade and arms not far behind.
Conscious of the diplomatic mileage its rival the United States under President Donald Trump has lost over its stance on climate change, Russian officials said it would support African countries in reforestation in order to curb global warming and avoid extreme weather.
In symbolism, Russian Minister for Natural Resources Dmitry Kobylkin led several African delegations to plant trees under a Russian campaign known as ‘Save the Forest Campaign’ that targets to plant 30 million trees.
Equatorial Guinean leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, acting President of Mauritius Barlen Vyapoory, Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, and Kenya Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma planted seedlings grown in greenhouses.
Moscow said this signalled Russia-Africa relations would focus on environmental conservation and restoration after years of resource exploitation.
“The successful implementation of our ‘Save the Forest’ project should be built upon internationally. I am passing on the symbolic baton of reforestation to our African friends,” Kobylkin said.
Russia is a new convert to green credentials as it did not join the Paris Agreement of 2015 - the global treaty adopted to fight climate change until a week to the conference on October 15 this year.
Moscow had to fight against industrial lobbies before finally ratifying the Treaty, an ascension it is using to win some political mileage in Africa, the continent most affected by climate change and irregular weather patterns.
Its ratification came two years after the US sensationally pulled out of the Agreement and vowed to stop implementing the treaty’s clauses including gradual reduction of CO2 emissions and other pledges to clean up the environment.
The Business forum was meant to precede the Russia-Africa Summit which President Vladmir Putin is expected to open with a formal speech on Thursday, seeking stronger ties in energy and infrastructure sectors.
For African countries, however, internal and geopolitical realities have made arms - the $15 billion trade Russia is known for despite selling $25 billion in foodstuffs to Africa - a key attraction at the talks.
Putin said at the opening of the forum that Russia aimed to double its commodity trade to $80 billion in five years.
In bilateral talks on the sidelines, however, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadera on Wednesday asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to extend military aid and work to overturn an international arms embargo.
"Heavy weapons are necessary for us to create effective forces that can secure the whole country against rebel groups" Touadera said in a face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Putin, who has called CAR a promising partner of Russia, has not kept his promises of security, with the exception of training, to Bangui after it signed a peace pact with rebels on February 6.
In a bid to usurp close ties that CAR has with its former coloniser France, Russia last year strengthened its presence including by providing President Touadera's security.
In exchange Russian mining company Lobaye Invest got several concessions for gold and diamonds.
Nile dam row
Particpants at the business forum were to discuss viability of investments in Africa, enhancing the business climate and opportunities in various setors.
Dr Juma said Nairobi sought to deepen co-operation in the blue economy where Russia is a big importer of fish and sea food, besides its upstream capacity in offshore gas and oil activities.
However, hopes that Russia would mediate a deal between Egypt and Ethiopia over the use of the Nile waters for filling the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam appeared to be cooling off.
A day after Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Addis Ababa could match Cairo in a military showdown, Egyptian President Fattah al-Sisi said he had accepted an invitation by the United States to discuss the matter in Washington
He did not disclose the he date for the meeting which would involve foreign ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.