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Oct 29, 2019

Last week's Russia-Africa Summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi marked Moscow's formal re-entry into the African diplomatic arena. The Russians put on a good show, promising Chinese-style "win-win" development and "no strings attached" aid, all of which was enthusiastically embraced by the 40 African leaders who attended the summit.

But something just doesn't make sense here. While it's evident that President Putin has a lot to gain from Africa, especially the continent's 54 votes that often vote as a bloc at international organizations like the U.N., it is not immediately apparent how African governments stand to benefit from closer ties with Russia.

By almost any measure, Russia's a small player in Africa and that will not likely change any time soon. The Russians aren't going to buy African oil, nor will they spend a lot to build infrastructure, become a source of private-sector FDI and there won't be a lot of aid coming from Moscow either.

Mostly, Russia sells Africa weapons. A lot of weapons. Which is not exactly what a continent needs where many regions are struggling with civil war, religious extremism, and growing instability.

Furthermore, deeper engagement with Russia also risks alienating Africa's primary international partners in Brussels, Beijing, and Washington, who unlike Moscow, do provide billions of dollars in badly-needed aid, investment and do considerably more trade with the continent.

So, what's going on here? Why do African leaders seem so enamored with Russia given that it's a potentially high-risk, low-return proposition?

Vita Spivak has been asking those same questions. Vita is the Analytical Project Head at the Moscow-based credit ratings agency Expert RA. She recently wrote an article published on the Carnegie Moscow Center website that explored some of these issues and the emerging diplomatic dynamic between Russia and China in Africa.

She joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the confusing diplomacy that's taking place now among Russia, China, and Africa.

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