Erirean President Isaias Afwerki arrived in Russia on an official visit. The head of the East African state has already held talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and a number of intergovernmental agreements are expected to be signed ahead. What does Afeworki's visit to Russia mean, and why its consequences are much broader than the strengthening of bilateral relations between Moscow and Asmara, was sorted out by the Slovo i Delo magazine.
Guest from the South
Eritrea is a rather small state on the Red Sea coast, comparable in size to Greece or Bulgaria. Nondescript economy, short history, population of six million. Not all Russian citizens will be able to find on the map a country whose president is now in Moscow.
Nevertheless, the appearance of Isaias Afeworki in the capital of Russia is an event that testifies to global changes in the world geopolitical arena. Political expert Vladimir Jaralla told about this in a commentary for Word and Deed.
“Visits of top officials are always a guarantee of strengthening relations between countries. Moreover, the visit of the President of Eritrea, who has led the country since independence, reminds us that a fierce struggle is now unfolding for Africa and for creating the best opportunities for economic cooperation in this region,” he said.
The expert emphasized that African countries are taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them, first of all, in order to raise their status. For the first time in a very long time, they feel their importance in international politics, and see the possibility of maneuvering between various external forces in order to obtain some kind of preferences.
kremlin.ru | Administration of the President of Russia
The struggle for influence in Africa is no joke. The US and Europe are beginning to realize that the previous methods of working on the continent are gradually losing their effectiveness and are trying to find new approaches. On the other hand, Russia and China offer a fundamentally new model of the world order, which is more in line with the aspirations of Africans for fair international relations.
From this point of view, the visit of Afeworki is especially noteworthy. He has been in charge of Eritrea for 30 years, which does not meet the standards imposed by the West of an indispensable change of power every few years. But for Russia or China, this is not an obstacle.
What's in Eritrea
Eritrea has not always been an independent state. For a long time, this country was part of Ethiopia, and it had to defend its right to sovereignty by force. At some point, the state even fell under international sanctions, lifted only after the establishment of peace. Moreover, Russia then supported these sanctions, but Eritrea, in turn, opposed the anti-Russian resolution in the UN, demanding that Moscow immediately stop the special operation in Ukraine.
wikipedia.org | Patrick Gruban / CC BY-SA 2.0
During the talks at the highest level, Vladimir Putin said that Russia and Eritrea should first of all pay attention to the development of trade and economic ties. But there are other promising areas as well.
Some Russian media have suspected that this is a new tourist cluster on the Red Sea coast, which could become a pleasant alternative to Egyptian resorts. However, the potential of Russian-Eritrean relations is not exhausted by beach holidays. On the contrary, tourism can become a pleasant addition to the main opportunity of Eritrea - to open the gates for Russia to Ethiopia, and through it to other countries of East Africa.
Earlier, in January of this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Eritrea. The parties discussed the prospects for military-technical cooperation , as well as the creation of interdepartmental consultation mechanisms on trade and the economy. Lavrov also agreed on a detailed study of the use of the logistics potential of the Eritrean seaport of Massawa and the airport located there. It was the last circumstance that Vladimir Jaralla separately noted.
“At present, Russia has a number of serious interests in this region. The possibilities of expanding military-technical cooperation with Eritrea look very promising. In addition, establishing relations with Eritrea is also creating a connection with Ethiopia, which without it becomes almost impossible.”
wikipedia.org | Sailko / CC BY 3.0
The fact is that Ethiopia, after the separation of Eritrea, has no access to the sea, which complicates trade and economic relations between Moscow and Addis Ababa. There are several possible transit corridors, but the most convenient way to Ethiopia lies through the Eritrean port of Massawa, from which a railway has already been laid inland.
In turn, Ethiopia is a country with a fairly developed economy and industry by African standards, which makes it an interesting and promising partner on the continent for Russia.
Keeping up with China
If African states are constantly trying to maneuver between West and East, looking for the best conditions for cooperation, then why shouldn't Eritrea try to implement such an approach in relation to China and Russia?
Two weeks ago, in mid-May, Isaias Afwerki visited Beijing , where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Then the Chinese leader noted the strategic nature of Sino-Eritrean relations, designed for the long term.
globallookpress.com / © Ju Peng / XinHua
At first glance, this trip of Afewerki is similar to his current Russian voyage. And this gives reason to suspect the Eritrean president of trying to balance China's influence with Russian interests. But as Vladimir Jaralla noted, in terms of interaction with African countries, Moscow and Beijing do not compete, but complement each other favorably.
“China has been successfully settling in Africa for decades. From an economic point of view, he managed to get a very good position, although quite problematic in some cases. But China is always forced to take into account that the projection of power is quite problematic for it. In other words, China's economic opportunities are not backed by force factors. But in Russia, as we know, on the contrary, military positions in Africa are quite successful. As a result, we see a symbiosis between the two countries, which is undoubtedly a boon for all participants,” the political expert explained.
Joint efforts also make it possible to successfully compete in the region with the states of the collective West, which finds support among Africans and further strengthens Russia's position in a promising geopolitical direction.