Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrived in South Africa this week in order to strengthen their relations with African countries. Both trips are part of what is viewed in diplomatic circles as a competitive effort to gain more influence in Africa by aligning with important African powers.
On Monday morning, Lavrov flew into South Africa for a working visit. He landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria, and soon after, he shared a podium with his. South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor. Among the topics the ministers discussed were the preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit, which is scheduled for July 26–29 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The main goals of the working visit were to increase bilateral cooperation as well as cooperation in multilateral fora like the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping.
War in Ukraine
In reference to the situation in Ukraine, which has led to Russia’s isolation from the world community but less so in Africa, Minister Pandor just expressed the hope that it would be resolved peacefully as soon as possible. South Africa has been a leading voice in Africa with regards to the necessity of a negotiated resolution between Ukraine and Russia.
Lavrov stated that Russia believes the absence of dialogue between the warring parties is due to Ukraine’s position. Ukraine is very clear: There will be no negotiations until Russia fully withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, including the Crimea and other areas it annexed in 2014 and last year.
This year’s BRICS presidency is being held by South Africa; therefore, involvement in other global forums, bilateral concerns, and significant global events were all up for debate.
Focus on Africa
Since the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, both Russia and the USA have increasingly turned their attention to Africa. The two major global players are competing with one another on the continent. Both nations have made declarations and taken actions to forge better ties with important nations in East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, and the Sahel. Russia has been eager to establish itself again on the continent, where it formerly supported a number of African liberation movements.
Russian Mercenaries in Africa
Russia’s recent activities in Africa involve the Wagner Group, a mysterious Russian private military firm connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Wagner mercenaries have been involved in conflicts in Mali, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Libya.
To carry out their operations, the mercenaries team up with local militia chiefs and community leaders, who pay them with cash or lucrative mining rights to rare materials like gold, diamonds, and uranium. The Wagner Group has been frequently charged with torture, killing of civilians, and other crimes both in Africa and most recently in Ukraine.
According to recent research by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the governments of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali are reported to have utilized Wagner fighters in attacks against civilians.
US Economic Cooperation with Africa
Yellen is in Africa to promote economic cooperation with specific African states, which is a significant change from the previous administration under Donald Trump, who largely ignored Africa except for making racial remarks. Her trip comes after President Joe Biden’s declaration that his cabinet colleagues will travel to Africa in 2023 during the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit last month.
The US Treasury Secretary will visit Senegal, Zambia, and South Africa to discuss trade and investment expansion and the US commitment to assisting African economies. The US Treasury stated that Yellen’s tour was intended to foster deeper economic linkages between the US and Africa while identifying new trade and investment opportunities with African government officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and youth.