Russia-Africa Summit: Moscow’s expanding influence across the continent

Learn more about Natalie Gonnella-Platts.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts
Director, Women's Advancement
George W. Bush Institute

This week, Russia is holding the second ever Russia-Africa Summit, playing host to 17 African leaders in St. Petersburg.

Though attendance is less than half of the African leaders who participated in the first Summit in 2019, Vladimir Putin’s efforts to expand and strengthen influence across the continent are something the United States and other countries in the Global North need to be more responsive to.  

Why This Matters 

Much of Russia’s more recent engagement in Africa has played out in highly destructive ways in places like Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, where officials and affiliates, like the Wagner Group, have murderously exploited instability in the pursuit of influence, loyalty, and financial gain (such as control of lucrative resource reserves).  

But this week’s Summit and other recent (though often hollow) promises by the Kremlin focused on investment and humanitarian assistance have seen Putin also look to soft power as another way to build relationships and undermine American and European influence. For example, during the first day of discussions this week in St. Petersburg, Putin promised to send no cost grain shipments to six countries in Africa – a particularly strategic offer after Russia dramatically pulled out of the Black Sea Deal and global food prices soar. 

This is concerning, especially as 17 years of democratic backsliding and increasing security concerns have seen good governance and development slow or flatline in a number of African countries.  So much so that a majority of African youth no longer feel optimistic about the future of their countries. 

Bottom Line 

History shows what is possible when the U.S. gets serious about meaningful collaboration with African countries. Programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millenium Challenge Corporation offer proven examples of what can be accomplished when the U.S. engages with African leaders and civil society in support of equity, transparency, and impact. PEPFAR alone has saved over 25 million lives, strengthening communities, national infrastructure, and mechanisms for accountability. 

With China and now Russia laser-focused on manipulating economic, social, and political challenges to expand national influence across the continent, the U.S. needs to again prioritize collaboration with and holistic engagement in Africa.