The first Russia-Africa Summit will be held on 23-24 October 2019 at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi and will be co-chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President and African Union Chairman Abdelfattah Al Sisi.
The Summit, according to the Director of Africa Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Andrei Kemarsky, will bring Russian-African relations to a new level. An estimated 50 African leaders as well as leaders of sub regional organizations will attend the Summit to discuss political, economic, technical and cultural cooperation. They will also discuss joint responses to new challenges and threats, and strengthening regional stability.
The Summit is part of the Kremlin’s efforts to renew old Soviet era ties in Africa and harness the continent’s vast economic potentials. Russia wants to enhance strategic manoeuvres and expand its political, military and foreign interests following Western isolation and sanctions triggered by the annexation of Crimea.
Russia’s 2015 military intervention in Syria dramatically changed the trajectory of the conflict and provided an opportunity for re-emergence of the former superpower and gradual rebuilding of strategic ties and expansion of influence – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Donald Trump’s Africa strategy is designed to change the focus of the U.S in Africa towards countering growing perceived threats from China and Russia. The U.S Africa Command plans to cut 10 percent of those personnel by January 2022, including about 300 Special Operations forces from the roughly 1,200 commandos.
This strategic shift in America’s African policy is creating a vacuum and the potential for Russia to offer African countries, some of whom are battling militants and violent extremist groups – military and security assistance as part of a broader strategy to build political and economic ties in the continent.
Nigeria and Russia Military interest
Nigeria is Africa’s largest petroleum producer and holds the largest natural gas reserves on the continent. It is also Africa’s largest democracy, and remains a major contributor to security, stability and protection of democracy on the continent having played an important role in ECOWAS, AU and UN peacekeeping operations in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Sudan and most recently in the Gambia. Nigeria’s military is also an important maritime security force in the Gulf of Guinea and is involved in transnational – multinational military operations.
These diplomatic, military, geographical, socio-economic and historical factors make Nigeria an important country in Africa for Russia to expand its energy, military and security cooperation with.
Presidents Buhari and Putin are expected to hold a meeting and sign a drafted military technical cooperation agreement on the sidelines of the summit in Sochi. Nigeria, for its part, is interested in buying planes, helicopters, tanks and other military equipment to crush the Boko Haram insurgency.
Potential areas for military technical cooperation
Nigeria’s military and security forces are battling threats to livelihoods and national security on multiple fronts. Since 2009, it has been undertaking counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operation in the country’s north-east and Lake Chad region against Boko Haram and its splinter group the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP).
The military is also involved in asymmetrical warfare with bandits and militants operating in rural north-west and the creeks of the Niger Delta, as well as peace support operations in the Middle Belt, where confrontation between nomadic herders and farmers have led to violence and threats to human security. In addition Nigeria’s military and police are participating in numerous regional and international peace keeping operations.
Technical cooperation with Russia will enable Nigeria’s military to expand current deals like the delivery of MI-35M attack helicopters and acquire badly needed capabilities and capacity, such as the multi-role MI-17V5 (a medium lift helicopter capable of conducting offensive, logistics- transport, and humanitarian missions) and the MI-26 heavy lift helicopter which provides capability for rapid deployment of troops and humanitarian assistance. The MI-26 and MI-17V5 will fit quickly into the Nigerian Air force and in good numbers enhance capacity for quick response – rapid deployment and air assault, sustain logistics supply and medical evacuation.
The multi-role Su-30 and Su-35 provide air superiority and potent air to ground offensive capabilities for deep air support and targeting of adversaries . The Nigerian Army will most likely be interested in boasting tank capability with the T-90, infantry support weapons and mine resistant & ambush protected vehicles and armoured personal carrier for troops. Others capabilities include the use of electronic and signal intelligence capabilities for counter-insurgency and security operations and joint military training and exercises for infantry, air and special operations units to share tactics, experience and improve combat readiness and operational proficiency.
A defence agreement and procurement could also lead to the transfer of technology, improvement of local military industries and job spin-offs.
Constraints to effective military technical cooperation
Nigeria is battling financial problems as a result of dwindling national revenues and as such funding for the military is affected by other competing critical sectors. This can be mitigated through development of a transparent special funding package for defence, trade off for military hardware or agreement with security assistance partners to channel support towards acquisition of military capabilities.
The country also risks triggering countering America’s adversaries through the sanctions act also known as CAATSA signed into law in 2017 to punish Russia for meddling in US elections, aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria’s civil war. Navigating through the sanction will require a engagement with the U.S departments of State and Defence to get waivers and protect Nigeria’s US security interests including the delivery of A-29 Super Tucano – a slower speed Air-to-Ground aircraft capable of operating in extremely rugged terrain and close to the ground – with target acquisition and identification systems for close air support, aerial escort and armed over-watch of ground forces.
National security foreign policy process will be crucial to ensure Nigeria’s interest is protected and the country benefits from the so called great power competition.
Abdullahi is an independent security and climate researcher