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Putin Hosts Sochi Summit As Russia Races For Influence In Africa


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) opens the two-day Russia-Africa Summit alongside Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sochi on October 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) opens the two-day Russia-Africa Summit alongside Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sochi on October 23.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia will aim to at least double trade with Africa over the next five years as he hosted dozens of African leaders in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The two-day Russia-Africa Summit opened on October 23 as Moscow looks to gain an edge in the race against other world powers to increase influence on the continent.

The Kremlin has said 43 of Africa's 54 heads of state or government had confirmed their participation at the event co-chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the current head of the African Union. Putin has scheduled 13 bilateral meetings with leaders of the continent.

In his speech at the plenary session of the summit, Putin told African leaders the current level of trade between Moscow and the continent was "not enough"

"We currently export to Africa $25 billion worth of food -- which is more than we export in arms, at $15 billion. In the next four to five years I think we should be able to double this trade, at least," he said.

Western countries and China already have a firm foothold in Africa, where other states such as Russia and India are also looking to gain influence given the continent's growing importance as a burgeoning hub for innovation, population growth, and a fast-growing consumer base.

Moscow was a key player there during the Soviet era, but its influence declined following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, China has emerged as a top power in Africa, pouring tens of billions of dollars over the past 20 years into countries with sometimes controversial rights records in order to gain access to their riches.

In an interview with state news agency TASS published ahead of the summit, Putin said that Russian assistance or loans will be based on the principle of "African solutions to African problems," instead of meeting benchmarks imposed from abroad.

The Russian president touted his country's "debt-for-development swap programs" that aren't "contingent upon...preconditions" that shackle a country's "trade and economic preferences."

"We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation, and blackmail of sovereign African governments," Putin told TASS.

Amid a stagnating economy following years of Western sanctions, Moscow is looking for opportunities to boost growth and for political allies in Africa.

Gaining influence on the ground can translate into closer diplomatic ties at organizations such as the United Nations, where votes are often at a premium.

Putin cited Russia's military agreements and arms deals, as well as a $25 billion loan to Egypt to build four electrical power units and $20 billion of debt relief to African countries as examples of how cooperation is already intertwined.

He also cited a history of Russian universities providing professional training to specialists from Africa as part of the broad spectrum of sectors Moscow sees as opportunities to bolster ties.

With reporting by AFP and TASS
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