With increasing international sanctions and deteriorating economic woes, Russia seems to be attempting to return as a major player in Africa. Recently, the Uganda Oil Ministry announced that a Russian company – RT Global Resources – won the bid to build a $3bn oil refinery in Uganda.
RT Global Resources is part of Russia´s biggest state-owned corporation, Rostec. Its CEO, Sergey Chemezov, sometimes also referred to as "Putin´s arms dealer" and an old friend of Russia´s president, was placed on sanctions lists by the EU and the U.S. after Russia´s military intervention in Ukraine. It is expected that Russia is trying to resuscitate its links with Africa.
However, there is widening debate and suspicion about Russia's intention of returning to Africa. It also would not be a smart move, argues Professor Andrey Makarychev from Tartu University. Russia's economic woes could weigh heavy on the deal with Kampala, he told Al Jazeera.
"The Uganda project looks problematic against the backdrop of growing financial problems inside Russia where funds are in deficit, the Ruble is unstable, as is the banking system. Russia's credit rating is at junk level," Makarychev said. The International Relations expert who also teaches modules for the master programs East European Studies and International Relations Online at the Center for Global Politics at Freie Universität Berlin argues that huge investments abroad during a time of austerity measures at home "might only exacerbate Russia's troubles."
Makarychev was joined in his skepticism by other experts. "There will be questions as to whether the oil refinery is the only part of the deal, or is it part of a broader package," George Boden from the activist group Global Witness told Al Jazeera.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a security source told Al Jazeera that the refinery deal is a problem. "The Ugandan military, which has a good relationship with the Russian government, is at the center of it. Seen from their perspective, it does make sense because they can provide concessionary terms for weapons."
"Moscow's interest in Africa is also about soft power," said Keir Giles, director of the UK's Conflict Studies Research Centre. "They are alert to ways of gathering influence through third-party nations in order to increase their relative weight in international bodies like the United Nations."
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