The Kremlin's Campaign in Africa


By Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio

This paper expands on the initial assessment of Russia’s campaign in Africa published in October 2018. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is monitoring developments ahead of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi on October 24. Listen to the ISW Overwatch podcast episode on the Russian campaign in Africa here.

Key Takeaways: The Kremlin’s campaign in Africa is a case study of the methods it uses to pursue its global objectives.  Russian President Vladimir Putin is no mere opportunistic predator. His investments in Africa are strategic despite their limited scope and results, and will likely have important long-term consequences. Russia’s expansion of influence in Africa could reduce the impact of coercive sanctions, provide an additional revenue stream for the regime, and expand its military footprint and global disinformation network. It additionally has implications for the counter-terrorism efforts by the U.S. in Africa. The campaign also provides insight into the Kremlin’s potential points of vulnerability, including its overreliance on human networks and the risk of blowback from failed influence operations.

The Kremlin is deepening its outreach to Africa as a key component of its wider global campaigns. Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a set of core strategic objectives: preserving his regime, suppressing political dissent, expanding his economy, reestablishing his state as a global power, and diminishing the global influence of the U.S. and NATO. He seeks to break the unity of the West and reestablish suzerainty over the former Soviet Union. He is reestablishing a global military footprint that aims to shape the activity of his adversaries at low cost using small numbers of troops and advanced area denial systems. He is attempting to create a constellation of pliable states and political alliances, and legitimize his violations of international law. He is waging several campaigns in support of these goals, some more coordinated than others. These campaigns transcend geographic boundaries and feature multiple intertwined lines of effort.

In Africa, Russia sees an opportunity to expand its military footprint and mitigate the negative economic consequences of its deteriorating relationship with the West. It also likely aims to balance against the global influence of China. The Kremlin aspires to pull African states into the network of geopolitical alliances and shared global information space that it has built to cast itself as a revitalized great power, international mediator, humanitarian actor, and effective counter-terrorism partner. It has dedicated some of its most senior officials to this coordinated effort to expand its influence in Africa. Russia has focused on boosting its bilateral military and economic ties throughout Africa. It will host its first major Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019 in partnership with Egypt.