Russia and Kenya are two countries that are groping for space in the world arena, led by strong-willed men, Vladimir Putin in Russia and William Ruto in Kenya. Putin, still smarting over the collapse of the Soviet Union and Mikhael Gorbachev’s apparent loss of strategic foresight, wants Russia to regain the greatness it lost in the early 1990s.
In the process, Russia repeatedly collides with Western powers, led by the United States and Britain, whose geopolitical preoccupation is containing Russia.
Ruto wants to surpass whatever Uhuru Kenyatta had done in the world arena, is quick to reprimand other African countries like Sudan and Niger, and has even offered to send 1,000 Kenyan police officers to keep ‘the peace’ in troubled Haiti in the Caribbean.
While both Russia and Kenya suffer bouts of economic and security contradictions at the domestic and regional levels, it is Russia that captures the most attention partly because it seemingly threatens American hegemony.
Russia is, asserted Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy in Moscow, “much critical about the US hegemony wherever it exists.” Russia takes advantage of past American bad behaviour on the world stage, supporting colonialism and racist policies.
US obsession with imposing its desires on everyone, in addition to possibly fragmenting Russia, enables Russia to appeal to other countries that have experienced victimisation from the Conceptual West. The implied victimhood allows Russia to identify with other victims, to gain political leverage for use in times of crises, and to be close to China which is systematically re-orienting world geopolitics by simply sounding reasonable.
On its part, Russia wants to be part of a new ‘world order’ in which its interests are protected and advanced. To come out of its post-Cold War humiliation and the ‘emergency survival’ mode and regain its stature, Lukyanov noted, Russia needed to do its homework and do it well.
This was through adopting a “combination of very well-calibrated regional initiatives and bilateral projects where Russia has a clear competitive advantage.”
In that new world reconfiguration and understanding of world affairs, Russian ‘calibrated regional initiatives’ became clear with Putin asserting global presence and challenging American hegemonic trends.
Among the ‘numbered’ initiatives was his response to NATO's appetite for ignoring Russian security concerns through its calculated expansion in Eastern Europe. This included mounting geopolitical countermoves starting in 2014.
He re-acquired Crimea from Ukraine and frustrated Barack Obama’s regime change project in Syria to ensure that Bashir-al-Assad went nowhere. In Syria, he introduced a military proxy, the Wagner Group led by his ‘chef’, Yevgeny Prigozhin; it proved to be effective as a regime saviour.
Putin also applied the ‘calibrated initiatives’ strategy in Africa which he elevated from the bottom of Russian priorities to a targeted region to pay special attention to. In doing so, Lukyanov commented, Russia seeks “slow, but steady re-establishment of ties in 21st Century… renaissance of Russian interest vis-a-vis Africa … [a] result of the realisation that Africa will be increasingly important in decades to come.” That importance is in material, strategic minerals, and global political leverage and they all call for calibrated moves.
In the process, the Russian presence in Africa has become increasingly visible and is worrying to those who ignored Africa and still thought it is their playing field. Although Russia was not alone in turning to Africa in response to being ‘mistreated’ by the Euro, Turkey being the other one, it has become a major supplier of weapons to different African States.
While Algeria and Egypt get the bulk of those weapons, other countries that buy Russian weapons include Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Russia also boosts regimes that might be in trouble with rebels and assorted militants.
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In return, Russian companies and related interest groups get access to such critical resources as gold in Sudan, bauxite in Guinea, offshore gas in Mozambique, diamonds in Angola, and energy deals in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.
Other calibrated moves include holding ‘summits’ for African leaders in Russia in order to find common grounds on commercial, security, and geopolitical interests. This political leveraging had two related pillars based on the past. First was Soviet/Russian support for decolonisation in Africa.
Second was the Conceptual West’s racist proclivities and disdain for Africans and their values. As such, the first summit in 2019 at Sochi attracted 43 African presidents and showed that Russia had friends away from Europe. That show became increasingly important following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 supposedly over Ukraine’s intention to join NATO.