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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Secretary of State Antony Blinken is flying into a superpower battlefield when he heads to Africa this weekend. But he’s not the new Captain America in a Marvel movie. Rather, he is the latest high-level diplomat to enter the ring in the struggle for influence on the continent between the United States, China and Russia.
In recent weeks, emissaries from Washington and Russia have exchanged accusations of each other over Ukraine and related food issues, as they sit down with African leaders.
“People are starving. People are suffering,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said while firing a salvo at the Kremlin. “The reason why there is a food insecurity crisis on the African continent right now is because of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”
Responding to the Biden administration, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reacted while crossing Africa just last week, arguing that the food shortage in Africa is “due to the utterly inadequate reaction of the West, which has announced sanctions, undermining the availability of food on the markets “.
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After his trip to Asia, Blinken will arrive on the continent this weekend and, as noted by the State Department, will send a message that “African countries are geostrategic actors”. Blinken will be sporting the friendliest face of him when he sits with leaders in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda next week.
“The timing and intentions of Blinken’s visit are clear and unambiguous,” Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Priyal Singh told Fox News. There is a “geopolitical competition for influence between African states after the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
“While the visit by the Russian foreign minister more or less worked to illustrate that Russia could look to the continent’s partners to address its growing isolation among Western states, Blinken’s visit could, consequently, further underscore the renewed importance. geostrategic and relevance of the continent, “he added.
But the secretary of state won’t find it entirely straightforward, Singh says: “Blinken will have to be particularly sensitive in how the United States most supports its position on the invasion of Ukraine, given the fact that key foreign policy officials and decision makers within the ruling parties of a number of African states maintain a deep-rooted world view of international affairs. “
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That’s an understatement when it comes to Blinken’s first stop, South Africa. The country is a member of the BRICS, the political and commercial fan club whose members also include Brazil, Russia, India and China. Politicians here still believe in repaying the historic support the Kremlin gave to the fall of apartheid. South Africa was one of 17 countries that abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly rather than condemning Russia for their actions in Ukraine.
“South Africa is not indifferent to what is happening in Ukraine,” Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy at the South African equivalent of the State Department, told Fox News. “We continue to emphasize that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy are the only way to put an end to the current conflict”.
Stressing South Africa’s support for the non-aligned movement and pointing out that Pretoria will not take sides with Ukraine, Monyela added: “We have resisted involvement in the politics of confrontation and aggression supported by powerful countries.”
The Biden administration is not having an easy time in its efforts to influence African countries to see Washington’s way. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield met Uganda President Yoweri Museveni this week and, interpreting the diplomatic speech, the US envoy expressed his view: “They discussed efforts to help mitigate the effect. of the Russian war on Ukraine on global food security and commodity prices “. according to Melissa Quartell, spokesperson for the United States Mission to the UN.
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But the place where he sat at the State House was still warm from the visit of the Russian Lavrov a few days earlier. While he was next to the Russian foreign minister, Museveni became lyric: “If Russia makes mistakes, then we tell them”, he said, “but when they have not made a mistake, we cannot be against them”.
When Museveni was asked about Thomas-Greenfield, his response was not so friendly: “Nobody can give us instructions,” he told the BBC.
Another indication, analysts say, that the United States is not making its way into Africa is the warning not to buy Russian oil or gas that Thomas-Greenfield launched immediately after exiting the meeting with Museveni: “If a Country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, they break them “. And she added, “then … they have a chance to have action taken against them.”
Secretary of State Blinken did not mention such threats. But even before his plane entered African airspace this weekend, the Atlantic Council joined with others in criticizing travel times. “This visit is almost too late after Lavrov’s visit,” Ambassador Rama Yade, senior director of the Council’s Africa Center, told Fox News.
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“South Africa, and beyond the African continent itself, is so strategic that everyone should have understood it before Lavrov’s trip. Moscow considers African countries as strategic partners.”
Yade concluded that support in Africa strongly favors Russia: “Vladimir Putin attended the latest BRICS summit as the guest of honor, while Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s online speech at the African Union (AU) summit in June was followed. alone four African heads of state “.