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Russia continues Africa charm offensive as Lavrov arrives in Congo

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
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In this handout photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt, 24 July, 2022.
In this handout photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt, 24 July, 2022.   -   Copyright  Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP

Russian Foreign Minister is in Congo on Monday as part of Russia's Africa charm offensive that also takes Sergei Lavrov to Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Lavrov arrived Sunday evening in Oyo in northern Congo, some 400km north of the capital Brazzaville and a stronghold of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso. 

Sassou Nguesszo and Lavrov will hold face-to-face talks on Monday, and later travel on to Uganda and Ethiopia on his Africa tour, designed to shore up support for Russia on the international stage. 

The foreign ministry in Moscow accused the US of trying to persuade leaders not to pose for pictures with Lavrov, "in order to prevent Russia from using this as proof that it's not isolated", and posted a number of pictures on social media of a smiling Lavrov being warmly greeted by the Congolese Foreign Minister Jean-Claude Gakosso at Oyo's Ollombo international airport on Sunday night.

Ahead of the visit, Lavrov said in an interview that Russia had "long-standing good relations with Africa since the days of the Soviet Union." 

Lavrov lauded Russia's role in decolonising in Africa, saying "we provided assistance to the national liberation movement, and then to the restoration of independent states, and the rise of their economies." 

According to Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, “Sergei Lavrov wants to show that Russia’s power projection in the global south has not been affected by the Ukraine war.

"And he’s emphasizing the foreign policy independence of African countries, which means they are not complying with western sanctions."

Ramani added: "[Lavrov] also wants to reassure its African partners that western sanctions will not prevent major projects, such as oil pipelines and nuclear energy projects, from getting off the ground.

"And Russia is still a reliable provider of grain and agricultural products to African nations."

Africa tour began in Egypt

Monday's talks in Congo mark the second leg of Lavrov's tour of African allies. 

On Sunday he was in Cairo where he first held talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, then his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukry. Lavrov also met with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, before addressing the pan-Arab organisation, the Arab League said.

In a joint news conference with Shukry, Lavrov said he discussed Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine with Egyptian officials who urged for “a political and diplomatic” settlement to the conflict.

Lavrov laid the blame on Ukraine for the rupture of earlier peace talks.

“We do not have any prejudices about resuming negotiations on a wider range of issues, but the matter does not depend on us,” he said. “Ukrainian authorities, from the president to his innumerable advisers, constantly say that there will be no negotiations until Ukraine defeats Russia on the battlefield.”

The Russian diplomat used his speech at the Arab League to press the Kremlin's narrative that the West pushed his country to invade Ukraine and accused the West of ignoring Russia's security concerns stemming from NATO’s expansion eastward.