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Geopolitics

Winning African Hearts And Minds: Why Russia Has An Edge Over The West

Russia's Foreign Minister is in South Africa for the second time in a year. In spite of the West's best efforts, Vladimir Putin's delegation is still welcomed in large parts of Africa, which still harbors colonial resentment toward Europe.

Photo of Sergey Lavrov during his visit to South Africa

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor shake hands

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Sergey Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, has not traveled much since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he arrived yesterday on an official visit to South Africa, his second official trip there in a year.

But it is not a coincidence: Africa is a priority for Russian diplomacy.

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The West was caught off guard when, at the United Nations last year, a large part of Africa refused to condemn the Russian aggression on Ukrainian territory. They were all the more surprised because, since the 1960s, the African continent has wisely adopted a principle recognizing the borders inherited from colonization: it wanted to avoid possible inter-state targeting, which is what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine.

Moscow has been able to capitalize on this refusal of Africa to align itself with the West.


Russian is blowing on the poorly extinguished embers of resentment towards the former colonial powers. This is currently exemplified by France's announcement to bring to an end its eight-year anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel in North Africa.

The latest addition is Burkina Faso's request for the withdrawal of French troops within a month, as Mali did previously.

Joint naval maneuvers

The case of South Africa is revealing. Even if it is going through a bad patch, it remains one of the continent's strongest powers, regularly mentioned for a permanent seat on the Security Council. It is the interlocutor of Europeans or Americans on global affairs.

They don't want to take sides because they don't feel concerned by a war between Europeans.

And yet, the ANC, the party in power, Nelson Mandela's party, has not forgotten that during the apartheid, it was the USSR, not the West, that supported it. The ANC is still grateful to Moscow, even if it is misplaced today in the midst of the Russian aggression on Ukraine.

It goes even further, since next month South Africa, with the Chinese and Russian navy, will be hosting naval maneuvers off the coast of Durban, in the Indian Ocean. A South African news site called them "obscene" because the maneuvers will coincide with the first anniversary of the start of the war.

But South Africa, like many states on the continent, is not looking at this conflict the way we do in Europe or the United States. They don't want to take sides because they don't feel concerned by a war between Europeans.

Western irrelevance

The West has not succeeded in convincing South Africa that it is a question of saving international law because their behavior in the past has been far from exemplary.

There is a boomerang effect originating from a history of interference. Because South Africa is a democracy, there is a debate, and the parliamentary opposition is denouncing the "moral fault" of what it labels as alignment with Russia. Yet it was unable to prevent the government from rolling out the red carpet for Vladimir Putin's envoy.

We are not done analyzing why, from South Africa to Mali, African states extend a welcome to Russia despite the war in Ukraine.

Massive disinformation does not explain everything. It is not enough to understand why the West is becoming irrelevant in an increasingly important part of the world.


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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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