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Medvedev seeks closer Africa links

By Steven Eke
BBC's Russian affairs analyst

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) with Chinese President Hu Jintao on 17/06/09
Russia hopes to emulate some of China's success in investing in Africa

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev leads a large trade delegation to Africa this week.

It is Mr Medvedev's first official visit to Africa, and the first by a Russian head of state for more than three years.

The president arrives in Egypt on Tuesday, and then goes on to Nigeria, Angola and Namibia.

The focus is on key Russian export strengths, especially energy resources and nuclear power.

His visit comes at a time when Russia is trying to strengthen its global, strategic role.

Gas and diamonds

President Medvedev heads for Africa aware that Russia is far behind Western and Chinese companies when it comes to securing a share of the continent's natural wealth.

In Egypt, which is Russia's top trading partner in Africa, Mr Medvedev will sign a deal on nuclear energy.

It is all part of what the Kremlin believes should be a truly global role for Russia

Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's atomic energy authority, is one of a delegation of several hundred Russian trade representatives and businessmen travelling with the president.

Russia and Egypt have already signed an accord on nuclear co-operation, possibly opening the way for Russia to construct nuclear power stations in the country.

President Medvedev then heads to Nigeria, where Russia's powerful gas giant, Gazprom, wants to secure contracts to build new gas pipelines.

In particular, Gazprom has its eyes on the proposed Trans-Saharan pipeline, which would deliver Nigerian gas to Europe.

Russia says it is willing to help Nigeria develop a civilian nuclear infrastructure. Some Nigerian commentators have suggested there is no need, however, given the country's huge oil and gas reserves.

Rosneft, the largest Russian oil company, whose chief is joining the delegation accompanying Mr Medvedev, has announced its intention to expand its African operations.

Namibia and Angola, the final two countries on Mr Medvedev's itinerary, present new opportunities for Russian corporations in the spheres of diamonds, metals, hydrocarbons and uranium.

Alrosa, Russia's state diamond corporation, has worked in Angola for almost two decades. It has stakes in two existing joint ventures, and wants to explore for diamonds and diversify its holdings in energy.

Russian companies have technical licences to prospect for uranium in Namibia, where, they say, energy, uranium reserves and tourism present potentially rich pickings.

The Namibia-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation is overseeing the new business partnership.

Global role

The Soviet Union's ties with Africa were political and ideological.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

The continent was a key battleground in the stand-off between East and West, the battles fought most often by proxy.

This explains why Russia's relations with Africa declined so quickly when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now a newly assertive Russia is trying to bolster a global role, often in regions far from its own borders.

Just last week, Mr Medvedev chaired three international summits, including the first meeting of the leaders of the so-called Bric developing countries involving Brazil, Russia, India and China.

It is all part of what the Kremlin believes should be a truly global role for Russia, in keeping with what Moscow calls a multi-polar world, with several strong regional spheres of influence.

The political dimension of Mr Medvedev's trip has not been stressed by Moscow. Instead, Russian businessmen have accentuated the potential for making money.

They acknowledge just how far Russia has fallen behind the major investors in Africa, particularly China.

The volume of trade between Russia and the African countries remains paltry.

For example, the Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that trade with Nigeria is worth $300m annually - as opposed to China's $11bn.

Some Russian analysts have warned, however, that Moscow will find it difficult, or indeed impossible, to stop China's march across Africa.

But it is not all business for President Medvedev.

On the agenda are meetings with well-known African figures, including Namibia's founding father, Sam Nujoma, as well as a safari trip.



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