“Africa is waiting for our support” – Dmitry Medvedev
President Medvedev returned home on Saturday. Summing up his trip, the president said Russia was “almost too late in engaging with Africa.”
“Work with our African partners should have been started earlier,” he said. “Africa is waiting for our support.”
Dmitry Medvedev’s whistle-stop tour took in four countries in five days and was seen as a reestablishment and strengthening of Russia’s stake in the region.
The president picked the land of the Sphinx for his first trip to the Arab world and the first stop on his African tour.
Partners in the 1960s, Russia and Egypt are once again close. Egypt is now one of the most popular tourist destinations for Russians, with almost two million visitors last year. It has also become Moscow’s largest trade partner in Africa.
The Middle East peace process topped the agenda of the meeting.
“The talks on the Middle East conflict should result in the creation of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state with the capital in East Jerusalem that will coexist in peace and security with all countries in the region,” the Russian president told in his address to the League of Arab States.
Russia is keen for a bigger role in the region and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak threw his support behind Moscow’s proposal for a Middle East peace conference by the end of the year.
“Russia has a strong influence on the processes taking place in the Middle East,” he said. “We are interested in strengthening of Moscow’s role in resolving the situation in the region.”
Meanwhile, Moscow is also looking beyond Egypt.
The Soviet Union had a long history of close ties with African states stretching from Angola to South Africa. While the Russian influence dropped with the fall of the USSR, China invested huge sums in building relationships with Africa, and the US has also been seeking to extend its sway on the continent. Now Russia has a lot of catching up to do, which was the purpose of Medvedev’s African safari, with trade in mind throughout.
Nowhere was it more obvious than in oil-rich Nigeria. A joint gas exploration venture will be set up with Russia’s Gazprom. The $2.5 billion agreement is described as the biggest gas deal Nigeria has ever signed with a foreign partner. A nuclear energy pact was also agreed, paving the way for Russia to build nuclear power stations in the country.
“If we carry out all our plans, Russian investment in Nigeria could reach billions of dollars. Russia and Nigeria are leading oil and gas countries. We really need to work together in these areas,” Medvedev said on the aftermath of the meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Yar’Adua.
Next in Dmitry Medvedev’s trip came Namibia, where Medvedev was welcomed in traditional style. Several Russian companies are already active in the country, seeking to exploit Namibia’s vast uranium reserves.
Medvedev admitted that Russia’s return to Africa should have started earlier – though it’s not too late yet. He also quashed concerns that should Russia’s African oil and gas ambitions be realized, it would further strengthen its grip on Europe's energy supplies.
“We are the number one gas-producing country. We have the longest gas pipeline network, the longest pipes, and the biggest experience in building and operating gas pipelines,” the Russian leader said. “When we offer our services, it’s not a way of political domination – it’s business as usual. We’ll continue to work this way – and not just in Africa.”
Dmitry Medvedev’s whirlwind tour ended in Angola, Moscow’s Cold War ally, rich in oil and diamonds.
Since the end of Angola’s civil war seven years ago the economy has boomed. Russian investments are very welcome there while Moscow is hoping to capitalize on its soviet era links to get more access to the country’s diamonds and energy. Angola currently heads OPEC, and Medvedev called for a coordination of efforts on world energy markets.
“The modern system of energy regulation is far from perfect,” he said after talks with his Angolan counterpart in Luanda, Angola's capital on Friday. “It mostly reflects the interest of one side of the energy chain, the consumers. Our countries are the biggest producers of energy resources – and of course we're interested in more fair legal regulation of these matters.”
The four-country tour was the longest around Africa taken by a Kremlin leader. Mending old ties, while building up new – this African trip was a chance Russia was not going to miss.