Russia’s Return to Africa: Cooperation on Energy - Erkin Sancarbaba


As part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to introduce Russia as a major global actor, the Russian government is implementing ambitious diplomacy to strengthen its economic and martial existence across the globe. In the recent period, Russia has been pursuing the strategy of expanding its sphere of influence in the African continent. African countries show a pertinent interest in Russia’s surging presence in the region. Ranging from defense to logistics, various African governments are forming cooperation with the Russian companies. Within this scope, one of the most attention-grabbing areas of cooperation is the energy sector.

Russian state-backed oil and gas companies, such as Rosneft, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Tatneft, as well as Lukoil, have investments in various locations of the continent. In North Africa, Gazprom holds a stake in Algeria’s El-Assel project, and Tatneft holds stakes in Libya’s Ghadames and Sirte projects. Besides, Rosneft has acquired the 30% of the Zohr Gas Field in offshore Egypt. In other regions of the continent, Russian companies are also involved in energy operations. The private Russian energy firm Lukoil, which targets the African continent to enlarge its operations, has entered to hydrocarbon production project by acquiring the 25% interest in the Marine 12 license in the Republic of Congo. The company indeed has projects in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. In 2018, Nigerian oil and gas company Oranto Petroleum and Rosneft have announced that two companies will cooperate across 17 African countries on developing 21 oil assets. All these large-scale investments show Russian energy companies’ appetence for new sources in the continent.


On the other hand, Russia’s tendency to Africa’s growing LNG sector is seen as remarkable. The new LNG potentials in Mozambique, Egypt, and Tanzania are predicted to go on stream over the next few years. Russian companies are eager to take a share in these projects. In Mozambique and Egypt, Rosneft has non-operating stakes. Today, Russia has a 6% market share in the global LNG market. The aforementioned sources can contribute to the country’s target to increase this rate to 15% by 2025.


Furthermore, it can be claimed that Russia’s energy diplomacy is not only about oil and gas. The Russian nuclear energy giants are considering Africa as a marketplace, which is new and has eminent potential. In view of the reality that nearly 620 million people in Africa cannot reach electricity, the continent has the possibility to become a pivotal market to the Russian nuclear power industry.


Russian companies such as Rosatom and Rostec are investing in new power plants as part of agreements between regional governments and Russia. Rosatom, the Russian state-backed company, has signed memorandums and agreements on developing and constructing nuclear power infrastructure with 18 African countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Alongside that, the Russian company is constructing the country’s first nuclear power plant in Egypt, valued at $60 billion financed by a $25 billion loan.


Additionally, apart from constructing nuclear power plants, the other interest of Russia in the region is the uranium resources. As the claimer of nearly 7% of the world’s uranium reserves, Namibia has agreed with Rosatom for the mining of the uranium in the Eastern part of the country. When Russia’s ongoing nuclear power plant constructions across the globe are taken into account, this significant agreement between the two countries provides that Russia has a great opportunity to ensure the continuity of its exportation of know-how and cutting edge technology on the nuclear energy sector.


Having said that, the efforts of the Vladimir Putin administration aim to bring new visions to the Russian Federation, which may be introduced as an image of the dominant global key player. By following this assertive attitude, all tools of policymaking are mobilized for achieving the determined target. The energy policy gets its share from the Russian administration’s new state of mind. Once upon a time, Soviet foreign policy was focused on the African continent for the pursuit of power. Today, Russia sets its sight on Africa once again; however, the main issue on the agenda is unequivocally the energy resources. Russian energy companies have a crucial role in Russia’s energy diplomacy. In the areas of oil, gas, and nuclear energy, these companies are enhancing their presence in Africa. Although the trading volume between Russia and Africa is less than expected, the Russian energy sector has a consensus on the continent’s energy potential and future. Despite the fact that Russia’s share in African commerce is comparably lower than its rivals, the Russian energy sector might be the key player in closing the gap and increasing cooperation. Russia’s efforts to enlarge its sphere of influence are tightly coupled with the country’s energy policy in Africa.