Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein, with Lavrov in Baghdad (photo: AP)
This visit took place against the backdrop of continued political tension in Mali over the possible reluctance of Joita to hand over power to a civilian government in the spring of this year. Diplomatic sources informed of developments in Mali say that the handover to a civilian government is unlikely to be an agenda issue on the talks of the top Russian diplomat.
They argue that expanding the presence of Russia, both on the economic and security fronts, is the key issue. “Russia has been expanding its foothold in Africa in an aggressive way during the past couple of years; this is about the economy and the power struggle with the West,” said one Cairo based European diplomat.
This is the second segment of Lavrov’s diplomatic offensive on Africa this year. Late last month, the top Russian diplomat did an African tour that included crucial players in the continent like South Africa and Eritrea, a top anti-Western country on the eastern part of the continent.
Russia, diplomats say, has been working actively to take over the African zones of traditional French influence in north and west Africa. They add that it has been very successful in so doing, especially through its militia arm: the Wagner group. Russia has expanded its presence across the Sahel and Sahara zone – at times in cooperation with partners from north Africa.
Algeria in particular is a close Russian ally. Energy, security and military cooperation is key for the relationship of Algiers and Moscow and it is expected to top the agenda of talks that Algerian President Abdulmedjid Teboune is scheduled to have with his Russian counterpart in Moscow in the spring of this year. Lavrov visited Algeria last spring as part of a North Africa diplomatic offensive that is set to be replayed to further empahsise cooperation and presence.
Lavrov arrived in Bamako after a two-day visit to Baghdad where he met with top Iraqi officials, including President Abdul-Latif Rashid, to discuss cooperation. A Baghdad-based diplomatic source said that Russia is keen to expand an axis of cooperation with Iran, Iraq and Syria in the face of Western influence to the east of the Mediterranean.
Overall, diplomatic sources agree that with the “complicated situation” Russia is presented with in its war in Ukraine, its top diplomat is working hard to combat a sense of isolation that his country has developed following Western support for Ukraine.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly