On April 13, Russia’s Institute of Technological Development for the Fuel-Energy Complex organized a panel to discuss energy cooperation between Moscow and African countries. One of the experts, Gabriel Anicet Kotchofa, who served as Benin’s ambassador to Russia, explained that “in Africa, we are waiting for Russia—for what Russia can do. I will tell you something that is never said today: we are tired of Europe.”
As a graduate of the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas and a Russian citizen, Kotchofa is not a neutral commentator. Nonetheless, recent energy trends support his proclamation. African countries are exponentially multiplying their imports of Russian oil in response to European sanctions and price caps, providing the Kremlin with additional flexibility in the financing of its war against Ukraine.
Morocco imported 600,000 barrels of Russian diesel in the entirety of 2021. In February 2022 alone, approximately double that number arrived in the North African country’s Mediterranean ports. Last month, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria accounted for 30 percent of Russia’s diesel exports, which just returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Moscow is fulfilling a need in Africa. The International Energy Agency noted that the coronavirus pandemic provoked debt crises in twenty African countries, which will exacerbate the subsidy burdens that these nations already face as a result of frequent oscillations in energy prices. Paired with the fact that factories have still not recovered from pandemic restrictions, African countries are looking for outside aid from new sources. “Significant parts of [African refineries] are idle or underloaded due to equipment deterioration, maintenance problems, [and] interruptions in the supply of raw materials,” said Lyudmila Kalinichenko, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, during the aforementioned panel. At the same time, Africa’s population is growing vertiginously.
As such, African countries are faced with two compounding challenges: energy refinery shortages and rising demand. One solution they have pursued is to step up their reliance on imports. Accordingly, these nations have turned to Russian gas companies happy to gain access to new markets. Some African companies have taken advantage of this realignment of imports and exports to deceive European countries seeking replacements for the Russian energy that used to flow under the Baltic Sea.
In Morocco, for instance, an MP accused several energy companies of forging documents about the origins of Russian gas quickly resold to Europe at a higher price upon arrival. These companies have allegedly mixed Russian oil into their domestic components to alleviate pressure from local extraction processes and augment their profits from both Russian sellers and European buyers. The gas Moscow is sending to Africa is clearly not all being used to satisfy domestic demand.
Beyond energy, relations between the EU and Africa have been deteriorating for the past few decades. Russian disinformation tactics, which have been scaled up since the start of the Russo-Ukraine war, partly explain this trend.
Despite European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s assurances that the EU has “no sanctions on food and agricultural products,” Senegalese president Macky Sall repeatedly voiced concern that European trade restrictions have blocked mechanisms that allow African countries to pay for indispensable Russian grains and fertilizers. On the military side, France’s inability to protect Malians from jihadist terrorist groups led to a complete withdrawal of its forces in 2022. This sparked widespread anti-French sentiment in West Africa, leading to attacks on businesses and diplomatic buildings in addition to shocking images of French flags being burned.
Russian propaganda has fueled this discontent. The Kremlin’s state-funded television networks like RT have signed deals with their African counterparts to shape minds about the ongoing war in Ukraine while repeating to audiences that France and the United States have harmed African interests. The recent U.S. intelligence leak adds detail about how Russian officials brainstormed propaganda initiatives to “realign” African public opinion on Western influence.
Read the rest at National Interest.
Axel de Vernou is a is a Research Assistant at Yorktown Institute and a student at Yale University.