It remains unclear how much the war in Ukraine, Western sanctions, and disruptions in global supply chains in recent years have and will further impact Russian arms exports to the continent, in terms of both delivering new equipment and providing maintenance for old equipment. Russia does appear willing to fight for its markets, however. In August 2022, it held its “Army 2022” military exhibition with visitors from seventy-two countries, during which Putin said it was ready to share its weapons with its allies in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Other Interests: Tourism and Pharmaceuticals
A number of other industries factor into Russia’s relationship with African countries, though with mixed results.
Tourism is one of the winners. Consider, for example, Russian tourism in Egypt. Before the Ukraine war, tourists from Russia and Ukraine made up around 40 percent of beach holidaymakers in Egypt. However, at the start of the war, hotel occupancy rates in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts dropped by 35 to 40 percent. That fall is now being reversed: in August 2022 Egypt was the second most popular destination for Russian tourists, after Turkey and ahead of the United Arab Emirates. In terms of wealthier Russian tourists, from the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 to December 2022, premium travel from Russia to Egypt went up by 181 percent. This suggests that Egyptian tourism has profited from the war in Ukraine, to the extent that Egypt is considering introducing the Russian payment system Mir in Red Sea resorts.
Russia’s pharmaceutical industry has seen less success. A good example of this is Moscow’s attempts to promote its Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 on the African continent through so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” which largely failed. This was owing to issues with vaccine efficiency, high prices, and delayed deliveries—as well as the fact that the World Health Organization has not approved it.
The Consequences of War
Given that African nations are still developing and that Russia’s primary economic goal in the short and medium term is withstanding the impact of Western sanctions, there is a limit to Moscow’s economic engagement with the continent. However, Russia and African nations will use any opportunity to boost economic ties.
Overall, Russia’s turn towards the Global South, including and especially Africa, may turn out to be one of the most defining legacies of the Ukraine war. The Global South countries may not wield the financial heft of the Western economies, but their landmass, population, and resources make them important partners for non-Western powers like Russia and China. This is something that Western policymakers ought to keep in mind.
Dr. Vuk Vuksanovic is a Senior Researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) and an associate at LSE IDEAS, a foreign policy think tank within the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Follow him on Twitter at @v_vuksanovic.
This article is based on a report he authored for the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).