With the attendance of some 40 African heads of state in the Black Sea city of Sochi, the opening day of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit kicked off with a bang. Russian president Vladimir Putin gave an introductory address that positioned its renewed push in the continent in the Soviet tradition of fighting colonialism.
Russian officials argued deals with the modern Russia offered African states their “independence” presumably implying deals with former colonial powers like France and the UK or global powers like the United States or China come with strings attached one way or another.
Although deals in nuclear energy, oil, gas, agriculture, and diamonds took a prominent place, two of the main attractions for African heads of state are military cooperation and military hardware.
Russia, which is the second largest supplier of arms in the world, is already a major supplier of arms to African countries. The number of arms supplied by Russia keeps increasing and one report notes Russia’s sales of weaponry to African countries in 2017 had doubled compared to 2012. China and the US are also crucial weapons suppliers but in Africa they fall behind Russia, which supplied 39% of Africa’s imported arms between 2017 and 2013.
Nigeria bought 12 helicopters and signed a deal for training and equipment, and other countries are negotiating more deals to add to the 21 military agreements signed in the last five years between Russia and Africa.
At the exposition hall, the displays of military hardware, ranging from model tanks to rocket launchers to automatic rifles seduced a large number of African delegates. Nestled in between stands for Djibouti’s free trade zone and Ivorian coffee, the Ethiopian prime minister Abiy—just feted as the Nobel Peace Prize winner—was seen eyeing model tanks, while members of the Nigerian defense delegation took their time at the Kalashnikov stand, posing for selfies holding the famed arms manufacturer’s latest automatic rifles.
Adjacent to a stand advertising the benefits of investing in Democratic Republic of Congo, delegates took turns at a virtual reality shooting range, picking out drones set in a virtual environment advertised as “the ambience in the African savannah.” Outside the venue, full scale helicopters, fighter jets, and armored vehicles were available to peruse as Russian soldiers patrolled the grounds of the exhibition park.