Only 16 African heads of state have arrived in St. Petersburg to attend the second Russia-Africa Summit — fewer than half of the 43 who came to the first summit in 2019 — a striking disappointment for the Kremlin despite its recent flurry of diplomatic efforts in the continent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg on Thursday (27 July) in a piece of diplomatic theater designed to portray Russia as a great power with many friends, not least in Africa. But the fact that just 16 African heads of state are attending the summit is widely interpreted as a sign of dismay in African nations about a war that has raised food and fuel prices, hurting vulnerable populations. This is far fewer than at similar summits held elsewhere, including a meeting in December 2022 with Joe Biden that dozens of African leaders flew to Washington DC to attend.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the West for the reduced number, claiming there had been “absolutely unconcealed brazen interference of the United States, France and other states” to dissuade them from attending. “This is a fact, this is outrageous,” he added.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to NATO sees the absence of the remaining countries as a signal. “Some leaders in Africa now feel compelled not to go to signal their concern about Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine,” the ambassador said.
The timing of the meeting is also awkward. Just last week, Russia renewed its Black Sea blockade on exports of Ukrainian grain amid a food security emergency and drought in the Horn of Africa. To that end, African leaders are expected to look to Putin for concrete promises on grain supplies at a summit, with some also likely to seek clarity and assurances on the future of Wagner mercenaries in the continent.
Relations between Russia and Africa are uneven at best. Some African leaders see the Kremlin as a useful foil against the West but also a source of destabilization and disinformation efforts in Africa, modest trade and minuscule investment.
Source: The North Africa Post