Energy, Political Cooperation on Putin's African Agenda

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - A just-concluded visit to two key African countries by Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen here as an attempt to restore the Kremlin's global influence.

Russia wants to establish itself as the primary driver of the world's energy market, especially at a time of political instability in the Middle East, a foreign policy analyst said here. Africa is seen as a growing energy market and supplier.

Kingori Choto, a Nairobi-based lawyer who researches African and international foreign policy, said Moscow has a strong history with South Africa's leaders -- the Soviet Union aided the African National Congress financially and militarily in exile -- although for both countries, Putin's trip is focused not on the past, but on the future.

"History is important but not critical," said Choto.

"[Putin] is restoring Russia and his visit to Africa is aimed at just that. He is looking at Africa as an emerging market where Russian corporations can do business."

Moscow's support for the ANC ceased at the end of Cold War and relations between the two countries ebbed, partly because Russia was focused on its own economic, social and political challenges in the 1990s.

Putin's visit to South Africa and Morocco officially was said to be aimed at improving cooperation and expand investment in the energy, mining and health sectors.

Russia and South Africa signed agreements to cooperate in health care, medicine and scientific research, including civilian space research. They also signed an accord on protecting intellectual property rights in military-technical cooperation.

Putin said Russia was ready for "intensive interaction" with the continent.

Russia is not currently a major trading partner for South Africa, and Putin said his aim was to bring Russia-South Africa economic relations up to the level of the political trust and confidence the two enjoyed.

South Africa is a strong African contender for a permanent seat in an expanded United Nations Security Council. At the U.N. it has frequently voted against positions held by the U.S. in instances where Western and developing nations have been divided over issues.

Some analysts believe that should South Africa win a seat, Putin is eager to have its support on issues where Russia and China currently oppose Western members of the Council -- the U.S., Britain and France -- for instance, on the use of sanctions to resolve international disputes.

South Africa's former white minority government severed diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1956 because of Russian support for the South African Communist Party (SACP), a longstanding ally of the ANC.

Relations began to improve slowly in 1986, after then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the idea of a revolutionary takeover in South Africa and advocated a negotiated settlement.

The fall of communism in the Soviet Union, and the formal end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, laid the ground for a new and changed relationship, but until now ties have been relatively low-key.

Putin's visit came at a time of tensions between the ANC and its two partners in what's called the Tripartite Alliance -- the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions labor federation.

The two minor partners accuse the ANC of not implementing economic policies designed to favor and help the poor.

From South Africa, Putin traveled to Morocco at the northern edge of the continent.

There, the two governments signed an agreement dealing with investments in energy, defense and combating terrorism. Russian nuclear energy company Atomstroiexport also announced it will bid to build Morocco's first civilian nuclear plant.

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