Russia’s state arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, announced earlier this week that it signed export contracts with African states worth as much as $1.5 billion in 2020.
“The price tag is more than $1.5 billion,” Rosoboronexport Director General Alexander Mikheyev told reporters at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) 2021 on Sunday. “We signed contracts with more than ten African countries in 2020. We have received an advance payment and have started fulfilling it,” he added.
Mikheyev’s comments shine a light on what has been a burgeoning Russian presence in African arms markets. The Soviet Union was not only a major arms supplier too, but maintained an active military presence in Africa throughout the latter years of the Cold War. This influence receded in the years following the Soviet collapse, with Russia’s military in stagnation and technical disrepair throughout much of the 1990s. But the Kremlin has since picked up where its Soviet predecessor left off, not only rebuilding neglected relationships but making unexpected new inroads.
As of 2020, Rosoboronexport accounts for a staggering 49% of arms imports to Africa. Russia seized and considerably widened its export lead over its two biggest competitors, France and the United States, over the past two decades. Russia has sold arms to at least twenty-one African states; of these, Algeria and Egypt are by far the biggest clients. Algeria has purchased a wide swathe of Russian heavy military hardware, including over 500 T-90SA main battle tanks (MBT’s) and 300 modernized