Lavrov makes surprise visit to Kenya as Moscow seeks support for Ukraine war

Lavrov makes surprise visit to Kenya as Moscow seeks support for Ukraine war
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov / Russian Foreign Ministry
By John Muchira in Nairobi May 29, 2023

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in Kenya for a previously unannounced working visit as Moscow intensifies its charm offensive in Africa to galvanise support for its war against Ukraine.

Lavrov, who has visited Africa four times since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, is expected to meet President William Ruto and other top Kenyan government officials with the aim of strengthening bilateral relations and exploring areas of mutual cooperation.

“Happy to see Minister Lavrov in friendly Kenya,” the Russian Embassy in Nairobi tweeted on Monday, without elaborating on the agenda. “A very fruitful week for Russia-Kenya bilateral relations is ahead.”

Russia has been keen to re-establish its old Soviet ties with African states and buy influence on the continent as it presents itself as the alternative to perceived “self-interested” colonial powers, including the UK and US.

The visit by Lavrov comes a few days after a four-country tour to the continent by his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, who visited Morocco, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Ethiopia in a bid to deepen the bilateral relations.

Though Kenya continues to project a non-alignment stance on the Ukraine war, the East African nation sees Moscow as a key partner in trade and investment.

Russia was the fifth-biggest buyer of Kenyan tea before the war in Ukraine, which saw the value of exports drop by KES 1.1bn ($7.9mn). Kenya imports from Russia iron and steel, wheat, fertilisers, paper and board, copper and oil with the value of Kenya’s wheat and meslin imports alone estimated at KES 12.6bn ($106.3mn) in 2021.

Lavrov’s visit to Kenya comes just days after President Ruto delivered a keynote speech at the 3rd Pan-African Parliamentarians Summit on Climate Policy and Equity at which he argued for a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council for the continent and a greater role in global affairs.

The top Russian diplomat next heads to South Africa for a meeting of BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) expected to discuss the enlargement of the alliance.

The meeting is a precursor to a BRICS summit in August with South Africa as the host. Russian President Vladimir Putin could attend despite an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against him as the order lacks the backing of the UN Security Council, according to Zane Dangor, director-general of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

Meanwhile, A retinue of 19 countries (among them Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates) have applied to join the BRICS alliance, which is seeking to grow its influence.