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The First Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum took place on October 23 – 24 at Sochi, the town of the Winter Olympics 2014 at the Black Sea shore. “The velvet season” with temperatures around +25 °C supported by the Russian hospitality lead this unprecedented meeting to a great success.

All 54 Africa nations sent high-ranking delegations lead by over 40 national leaders. Eight major African integration associations and organizations were present at the event. The summit was co-chaired by the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Arab Republic of Egypt is Russia’s key partner in Africa with a lion’s share of the US$20 billion all-Africa trade.

80% of the Russian export to that continent consist of food, machinery and arms. Russia is going to extend its defence related export to the African countries. The latest version of the front-line fighters MiG-35 was displayed at the forum teamed with Mi-35PM combat helicopter while two Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft (a business jet and a two-class liner in Aeroflot colors) were presented at the Sochi airport.

Putin mentioned that Russia has concluded agreements on military-technical cooperation with 30+ countries to whom Russia deliver defence hardware. Some of these contracts are done on a charity basis which corresponds with US$20 billion African debts’ cut-off announced by the Russian President. According to Putin the main obstacles for the African continent development are terrorism, extremist ideology, transnational criminality and piracy. He openly blamed the so-called “Arab Spring” as an instrument of North Africa destabilization. He also condemned Libya bombing which had “perverted the sense of the UN resolution.”

Putin confirmed that Russia will continue training of African military and homeland security personnel which nowadays employs 20+ continental nations.

Dmitry Shugaev, the Head of Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation (FS VTS) mentioned that the Russian defence export portfolio for African nations exceeds US$14 billion, including US$2 billion with sub-Sahara nations. He mentioned that Russia’s annual defence trade with Africa comprises 30-40% of the total volume and includes not just direct delivery but also upgrade and maintenance packages. The FS VTS Director named the hit list of arms sales which include MiG and Sukhoi family fighters, Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, air defence systems, such as Pantsir and Tor, plus the Kornet ATGW. “We have a long queue for Kornets,” Shugaev said. He also confirmed that Egypt is going to equip the French-built MISTRAL LHD with Russian equipment including Ka-52 helicopters.

“The issue on the agenda is to further outfit MISTRAL ships with our armament and Ka-52 helicopters. We have a quite serious cooperation with that country,” Shugaev stated. He also added that Russia is currently holding consultations on the deliveries of rotorcraft, electronic warfare and air defence systems, stressing that Egypt “is a leading partner, not only on the continent but generally in the sphere of military and technical cooperation.”

Shugaev mentioned Angola as another Russian strategic partner in Africa. During recent MAKS International Air & Space Salon Angola signed a couple of contracts on Mi-17 and Mi-24. He added that Russia concluded 12 Su-30K multifunctional fighters delivery to the African nation. Meeting Luanda’s requirement Russia is going to establish the service and maintenance centre for ex-Soviet and Russian defence hardware.

The President of Uganda (another Su-30 user) directly addressed to President Putin for extra deliveries of combat aircraft and tanks on credits as well as on “fast cash” payments.

Photo: Rosoboronexport

According to Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s sole state mediator in defence trade) CEO Alexander Mikheev Russia delivers weaponry worth US$4 billion to 9 African states this year. He disclosed that air force and air defence equipment employs the lion’s share of 70% while others – such as helicopters, tanks, APCs and small arms – share the rest. He mentioned that the African programme on military-technical cooperation is quite substantial to include different ways of payment like state and commercial credits.

According to FS VTS officials, in the near future Russia will focus on creating service maintenance and repair centres around Africa to support earlier delivered equipment. Negotiations are being held with Angola, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.

It looks like Russia is going to employ “a low-key and soft power” system to strengthen cooperation with the African nations. It is hardly possible to believe that a sensational visit of two strategic Tu-160 Blackjack bombers to South Africa – that took place on October 23 – was “occasional.” A pair of Tu-160 accompanied by Il-76 military transport and AN-124 Ruslan heavy-lifter passed over 11,000 km with refueling to land at the Waterkloof airbase exactly during the Summit. The Russian MoD statement named the purpose of this visit a “bilateral military cooperation development between the Russian and South African Air Force.”

Sukhoi Superjet 100 display at Sochi airport is self-explainable. The Sukhoi Commercial aircraft company has developed a special model to conquer the African market. The plane has 100 passengers capacity and seems to be extremely efficient at the lines with 50,000-200,000 passengers’ annual volume. Keeping in mind that the continent population is expected 2 billion people within 20 years with the double GNP simultaneously the SCAC estimates an annual grow of the passengers flow of 5%. At the same time most of the African fleet is quite aged with over 15 years of service. SCAC considers RSA, Nigeria, Angola and North African countries as the most promising customers.

Yury Laskin