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Eritrea Supports Increased Russian Presence in Africa, Russian Ambassador Claims

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

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In an interview with Russian state news agency TASS on June 11th, the Russian Ambassador to Eritrea, Igor Mozgo, claimed that Eritrea “would certainly like to see a more active presence of Russia in Africa as a counterweight to Western influence.”

The interview comes just weeks after Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, announced in a speech that the ‘new global order’ advocated by the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union has become “increasingly untenable due to the resistance of the free peoples of the world.”

 

What You Need to Know:

Speaking to TASS, Ambassador Mozgo stated, “Eritrea occupies an important strategic position on the Red Sea: almost 1,200 km of coastline on the mainland and almost the same amount including the islands it belongs to.”

“Therefore, security issues in and around this sea occupy an important place in the policy of the Eritrean authorities. Asmara clearly does not accept unilateral actions by the West against Yemen and in the Red Sea region as a whole, welcomes the visits of Russian Navy ships here and advocates the permanent presence of our fleet in the Red Sea in this area, taking into account the provisions of the agreement signed in July 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Maritime Doctrine could certainly be very promising, but everything depends on the negotiating position of the Eritrean side.”

In late April, Mozgo met with the Eritrean Minister of Marine Resources to discuss areas of cooperation in the country’s fishery and marine sectors, including the research of marine resources.

In his May 24th speech during the country’s independence day celebrations, President Afwerki stated, “The war declared 30 years ago to primarily ‘contain’ Russia has become a daily theme today; accompanied as it is by intense propaganda. The subterfuges underway to portray – through enlargement and intensive care – the almost defunct NATO and the European Union as more potent than ever before are too transparent and cannot, indeed, conceal the looming quagmire.”

Afwerki then claimed that the western elites, through their ‘domination and monopoly’, continue to ‘rob and loot’ Africa’s resources.

“Another important issue is Africa and the overall situation on the continent in relation to other global developments. In the eyes of the elite of ‘domination and monopoly,’ Africa has always been, and continues to be, regarded as their [the west’s] exclusive enclave.

The continent is endowed with almost 60% of global natural resources, and a fast-growing population of 1.2 billion. Despite all these resources, its opportunities for development were not only suppressed in the past due to slavery and colonialism, but its growth remains stifled in this post-industrial age. It thus remains a marginalized continent condemned to a subsistence economy and the export of raw materials. On the other hand, the voice of the African people saying ‘enough’ to slavery, colonialism, and unfair exploitation has been growing in the last few years.”

The president also touched on the west’s attempted containment of China, whose economic and technological growth is “their greatest anxiety.”

“The containment of China is fraught with higher risks than the containment of Russia. The declared war – even if packaged in moderate language and diplomatic niceties – is grossly at variance with the facts on the ground and the tensions that these will invariably entail. The looming tension will not be diminished or averted as the elites of ‘domination and monopoly’ cannot accommodate – due to their innate nature and proclivity – the economic, technological, and military growth of China; or its expanding international ties. Above all, as they will not discard their agendas of hegemony and domination, their machinations to contain China in Asia through a web of alliances – using ‘Taiwan and Hong Kong’ as narrow pretexts and the ‘South China Sea’ as a wider cause – are patently evident.”

So, What Now?:

Despite approximately 53 percent of Eritrea’s population living below the poverty line, it has in recent years become a strategically important nation for both Russia and China due to its location. With over 1,000 miles of coastline on the Red Sea, its land borders with Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, as well as its maritime borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, it sits on an important global shipping channel—the Bab al Mandeb Strait—whose trade accounts for 12% of the world’s seaborne trade and 8% of the world’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade.

Although Russia only established diplomatic relations with Eritrea upon its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the African nation has continuously supported Russia in global forums such as the United Nations, where it became, in March 2022, the only African nation to vote against the resolution to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, China has also maintained strong ties with the country even before independence, with President Afwerki undergoing military training in China in the mid-1970s. Moreover, China remains Eritrea’s largest trading partner and has invested heavily in the country, including upgrading its port of Massawa.

As Africa has become the latest region to become an arena of superpower competition, Eritrea’s increasingly pro-Russian stance is indicative of a larger shift taking place on the continent.

Russia’s recently rejuvenated relations with Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali—all nations currently under military rule—have disrupted the West’s presence in West Africa and the Sahel, with the US withdrawing from its Airbase 201 in Niger and the French ceasing anti-insurgent operations and diplomatic relations with its former colonies after they came under military rule.

Although Eritrea is not a new ally of Russia’s, President Afwerki’s speech, particularly his denunciation of NATO and other Western elites, illustrates the view currently held by many  African nations; that the United Nations Security Council requires urgent reformation.

That view was stressed again on Monday by Bankole Adeoye, the African Union’s (AU) Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security after the 11th Ministerial meeting of the AU Committee of Ten (C-10) of Heads of State and Government.

This reformation view has slowly gained fervor as Africa increasingly battles environmental crises, food crises due to flood and drought cycles, and Islamic and extremist militancy.

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