After a decades-long absence, Russia is once again appearing on the African continent. The Kremlin’s return to Africa, which has generated considerable media, governmental, and civil society attention, draws on a variety of tools and capabilities. Worrying patterns of stepped-up Russian activity are stirring concerns that a new wave of great-power competition in Africa is now upon us. U.S. policymakers frequently stress the need to counter Russian malign influence on the continent. On a visit to Angola in early 2019, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that “Russia often utilizes coercive, corrupt, and covert means to attempt to influence sovereign states, including their security and economic partnerships.”1 Advocates for a more forceful Western policy response point to high-visibility Russian military and security cooperation in the Central African Republic and the wide-ranging travels of Russian political consultants and disinformation specialists as confirmation that Russia, like China, represents a major challenge in Africa.

Yet is that really the case? Are Russian inroads and capabilities meaningful or somewhat negligible? Hard information is difficult to come by, but any honest accounting of Russian successes will invariably point to a mere handful of client states with limited strategic significance that are isolated from the West and garner little attention from the international community. It remains unclear whether Russia’s investments in Africa over the past decade are paying off in terms of creating a real power base in Africa, let alone putting it on a footing that will expand its influence in the years to come. Read more…

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