In South Africa, Russia Prospects for Opportunity - for Geopolitical Futures - 30.01.23
Geography and logistical difficulty limit the extent to which the two can cooperate, but there is a certain complementarity that can’t be ignored. Article by Ekaterina Zolotova.
A country as distant and seemingly disinterested as South Africa may not seem like a typical ally for stronger powers, but there’s evidence that that’s exactly what Russia intends for it to be. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor to discuss bilateral relations. The visit came as the two countries move closer militarily; in February, exercises comprising Russia, South Africa and China are set to take place near the Mozambique Channel.
To be sure, geography and logistical difficulty limit the extent to which the two can cooperate, but even their distant cooperation is being taken especially seriously by concerned parties such as the U.S. who know there is room for Russia to strengthen its position by turning South
South Africa has sought to remain equidistant from either side of the Ukraine conflict, declining, for example, to join the sanctions regime against Moscow. South Africa’s defense minister has even said that the U.S. campaign against Russia is pressuring many African countries that maintain relations with Moscow. For Russia, that alone is a sufficient basis for cooperation, but it has other reasons to shore up ties.
The sanctions regime against Moscow has forced it to look for new alliances, especially in the east and, increasingly, in the global south. This seems like a practical arrangement: Russia needs to keep exports high, especially as the war continues. The war and the subsequent sanctions have by no means destroyed the Russian economy, but it has created logistical difficulties and caused the threat of a reduction overall trade, leading Russia to markets like South Africa, which broadly adheres to a policy of neutrality.
More, Russia needs to show that the war hasn’t hurt its international standing with the rest of the world. In the Soviet era, Moscow had a fairly strong influence in Africa, supporting its allies there by providing military-technical, material and diplomatic assistance to national liberation organizations and movements fighting colonial regimes, including in South Africa. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Moscow was far too occupied with its internal affairs to maintain such a strong presence so far afield. It doesn’t want to make the same mistake today. It cannot afford to be seen as a nonentity in a region that holds so much economic promise.
The region contains approximately 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, 40 percent of the world’s gold and up to 90 percent of chromium and platinum, as well as the largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds and uranium. Geostrategically, Africa is a barrier between the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific zones. Economically, it is often referred to as the southern gates of European trade, which is especially important for a country that still depends on others for its high-tech needs. In short, a strong position in Africa grants an awful lot of leverage.
For the full article in pdf with charts, please click here:
Ekaterina Zolotova is an analyst for Geopolitical Futures. Prior to Geopolitical Futures, Ms. Zolotova participated in several research projects devoted to problems and prospects of Russia’s integration into the world economy. Ms. Zolotova has a specialist degree in international economic relations from Plekhanov Russian University of Economics. In addition, Ms. Zolotova studied international trade and international integration processes. Her thesis was on features of economic development of Venezuela. She speaks native Russian and is fluent in English.