Russia is the latest world power eyeing the Horn of Africa

Hello Asmara
Hello Asmara
Image: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
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Russia is joining the list of nations intent on establishing their foothold in the Red Sea. In a meeting with Eritrean leaders on Friday (Aug. 31), foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced plans to establish a “logistics center” at a port in the East African nation. Moscow didn’t specify the location or the timetable of the project but said it was aimed at boosting bilateral trade and infrastructural investment between the two nations.

The latest declaration underscores Russia’s efforts to renew its ties with African states and boost its cultural, political, and economic influence. Russia is stepping in even as the US retreats from Africa under Trump and China deepens its reach. In March, Lavrov undertook a week-long tour of Africa, visiting Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. During his visit, he signed agreements to establish economic zones, explore opportunities in accessing minerals including diamonds and platinum, and enhance military and technical cooperation.

In the Central African Republic, the Kremlin is also supplying weapons and security advice to the embattled government. Three Russian journalists probing these ties were recently killed 180 kilometers (112 miles) northeast of the capital, Bangui. Moscow is also holding a poetry competition in CAR which would send the winners to a holiday in a camp in Russian-annexed Crimea.

The choice to set up base in Eritrea is calculated, given the nation’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa. Its Assab and Massawa ports have been at the center of the changing power dynamics in the region. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are part of the coalition fighting in Yemen, have used the Assab port for logistics purposes and as a detention facility.

After decades sparring with landlocked Ethiopia, a recent rapprochement also means Addis Ababa is looking to utilize and invest in Eritrea’s seaports. As a nation coming out of isolation, Asmara also hopes to use its significant geographic position as a leverage to attract global investment, says Omar S. Mahmood, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa. Leaders from nations including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Japan, and Germany have all visited the country in recent weeks. Asmara, Omar added, “is making up for lost time.”

Russia’s arrival in Eritrea will, however, mean a crowded Horn of Africa. Neighboring Djibouti, the third smallest country in mainland Africa, is home to various European, Asian, and American military bases. And there’s growing friction there too: in May, the Pentagon accused China of using military-grade lasers to distract its fighter pilots in the country.