Russia has over the past several years strengthened its presence in Africa, vowing to intensify grain exports, weapons deliveries and energy cooperation.

The world's poorest continent is gaining importance for Russia, which has been isolated from Europe and the United States since launching its offensive in Ukraine in February last year.

- Grain -

Russia in July pulled out from the a deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.

The agreement had eased fears of a global food crisis triggered by the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, two major grain exporters.

It enabled the export of more than 32 million tonss of Ukrainian grain over the last year.

To answer African concerns triggered by the suspension of the deal, Russia positioned itself as an alternative supplier, even offering free deliveries.

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"I want to give assurances that our country is capable of replacing the Ukrainian grain both on a commercial and free-of-charge basis," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Russia exported 11.5 million tons of grain to Africa in 2022, and another 10 million tonnes in the first half of 2023.

Around 25 percent of Russian exports to Africa consist of wheat and meslin -- a mixture of cereals -- said Pavel Kalmychek, a senior official at the Ministry of the Economy.

- Wagner -

Russian mercenary group Wagner has been seen for years as an armed extension of Moscow's influence in several African countries.

Wagner fighters have been identified in Libya, Mali, Mozambique and Sudan as well as in the Central African Republic, where a Wagner executive manages the security of President Faustin Archange Touadera.

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A European military source told AFP that Wagner was bringing back gold and minerals from Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mali, which then fed the Russian economy.

But Wagner's failed revolt against Russia's conventional army raises uncertainties around the future of the group's operations overseas.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wagner's future in Africa was "above all up to the governments of the countries concerned."

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- Weapons -

Russia has long-standing military agreements on the African continent dating back to Soviet times.

Russia "continues and in some places increases military cooperation in Africa," a Russian source in the industry told AFP.

The partnerships consist in "the modernization of weapons supplied since Soviet times" as well as next-generation equipment, the source said.

"Russia is working with all countries, even those that have traditionally worked in this area with France, the United States or Spain," according to the same source.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a March 2023 report that African states received around 12 percent of Russian arms exports in 2018-2022.

In 2021, however the Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugaev said that arms deliveries to Africa accounted for 30-40 percent of arms exports.

In 2019, Shugaev had estimated the arms exports portfolio to Africa was worth 14 billion dollars.

- Energy -

Russia also aims to export its expertise in terms of nuclear infrastructure.

In 2022, Russian nuclear giant Rosatom started the construction of Egypt's first nuclear power station in El-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast.

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It also discussed the construction of small and floating nuclear power plants with a number of African states including Rwanda and Nigeria.

Excluded from most of the Western market, Russia is reorienting its energy exports and pledged to "intensify" energy cooperation with Algeria.

According to the Ministry of the Economy, around two-thirds of Russian investment in Africa involve the exploration and production of oil and gas, as well as uranium, diamonds, and other minerals.

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