Moscow prefers Africa’s non-aligned stance to isolation

Saturday June 03 2023

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. PHOTO | AFP


Russian top diplomat Sergey Lavrov may have received the reassurance he was looking for in Africa on his fourth trip on the continent since Moscow launched a war on Ukraine.

And it appears he prefers the continent’s relative neutrality to the conflict, rather than a backing of the West, which could isolate Moscow.

In Nairobi where he met with President William Ruto, Lavrov said he had an opportunity to provide details of the war: To defend the Russian state from annihilation.

In turn, President Ruto said, “Kenya calls for a resolution of the conflict in a manner respectful to the two parties”.

Read: Ruto: Nobody gains from Russia-Ukraine war

This was a significant step because Nairobi had been among African countries that condemned Russia’s invasion.


In February, Kenya voted with 141 other countries for a UN General Assembly motion to compel Russia to end the war and withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution while Burundi, South Africa, Uganda, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Mali, Madagascar and South Sudan abstained. Ethiopia was not even in the room.

Lavrov, who also toured Burundi and Mozambique, said he respects the neutrality stance.

“Our Mozambican friends listen and decide by themselves, not giving in to blackmail,” he said, offering military support to Maputo, currently battling an insurgency.

“Russia is willing to supply equipment to our Mozambican friends, both for strengthening the country's security and for counterterrorism,” he said.

Russia has also used military support to shield relations with a number of African countries such as the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan. Two weeks ago, Wagner Group denied involvement in the Sudan war.

Lavrov’s third trip to Mozambique since 2013 came only five days after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s tour to Maputo, where he promised to open an embassy soon.

National interests

David Monda, a professor of international relations, political science and foreign policy at City University of New York, says Lavrov’s trip to Nairobi converged the interests of both sides.

“Lavrov’s visit shows that Russia wants to avoid its diplomatic isolation fuelled by the West. It is banking on pragmatic stances of African nations like Kenya that face more existentialist threats like pressing food insecurity, economic slowdown and political uncertainty,” he said.

Read: How Russia is drawing in Africa

Burundian diplomat Albert Shingiro while meeting Lavrov in Bujumbura praised President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s “consistent policy to uphold his country’s right to have an independent point of view and develop relations with those who are ready to do that on a mutually beneficial basis, including, in this case, the Russian Federation”.

“We choose partners for the interest of our people,” Shingiro said.

“Burundi advises parties in conflict to embrace dialogue.”

In Kenya and Burundi, he said new deals on trade and energy are due to be signed later in the year.

While in Africa, Mr Lavrov has often played the idealistic card, reminding Africa of the support Russia gave to African liberation movements.

“Ironically, Lavrov failed to mention the colonial nature of his country’s invasion of Ukraine. A topic carefully avoided during his visit,” observes Prof Monda.

“We are interested in more vigorous and direct contacts between Russian businesses and Burundian companies,” he said in Bujumbura.

While (Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN) Ambassador Martin Kimani condemned the invasion of Ukraine and Kenya voted to condemn it, Kenya declined a previous effort by President Vlodymyr Zelensky to address the Kenyan parliament.

This, Prof Monda says, “illustrates the extent to which Kenya was willing to go to antagonise Russia”.