One year on: The ripple effects of Russia's war in Ukraine on the EU-Africa peace and security partnership

Six days after the EU-AU summit ended last year, Russia invaded Ukraine. The EU is struggling with Africa’s lack of unequivocal support for the West’s efforts, including at the UN, to condemn Russia. For many African countries, this expectation feels misplaced – if not offensive. For them, the EU’s actions following the Russian war in Ukraine show the double standards of Europe when it comes to efforts against military aggression and peace negotiations. 

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    One year after Russia’s war started in Ukraine, one thing is clear: to avoid sacrificing the EU-Africa peace and security partnership, both parties need to manage its fall-out better and stop shying away from frank discussions. This can be done by being clearer on what each one expects from the partnership on security challenges in Africa and globally and working towards an effective partnership fit to weather rough times.

    The EU’s response to the war in Ukraine 

    In response to the Russian invasion, the EU has spent millions to support Ukraine's defence. The EU has channelled much of this support through the European Peace Facility (EPF), the successor of the African Peace Facility (APF), in addition to efforts by EU and NATO member states. 

    In a shift from the past, the EPF is now used to provide lethal weapons and ammunition, something that was impossible under the APF. Since February 2022, the EU has spent €3.6 billion for Ukraine under the EPF, including (lethal and non-lethal) military equipment, training through the European Union Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM), as well as field hospitals and medical equipment, demining and engineering equipment. 

    Ceiled support measures for African peace and security activities 

    By comparison, spending on Africa has plateaued. Since 2021, the EPF has provided some €445 million in support to bilateral armies (including the Rwanda Defence Force active in Mozambique) and regional initiatives (such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force). None of the assistance measures adopted for Africa includes support for lethal assets or weapons. For now, the budget for actions in Africa seems to be capped at €600 million for the period 2022-2024, suggesting a top-up will be needed in the future. 
    African actors, including the AU, are increasingly asking questions about the future of EU support to African peace and security efforts. These questions turned louder in light of the decreasing funding for long-term African-led peace support operations such as AMISOM/ATMIS in Somalia; and the withdrawal of a number of large special operations, such as French operation Barkhane and the EU’s Takuba Task Force (which included troops from nine EU member states), following the coup in Mali in February 2022. 

    This comes in addition to existing concerns about the lack of earmarked funds for Africa under the EPF and the loss of a mutual and formal agreement mechanism between the EU and the AU since the launch of the EPF. 

    Russia’s role in Africa is here to stay

    The situation in the Central Sahel is emblematic of the cooling down of relations between the EU and Africa.
    Sophie Desmidt

    The situation in the Central Sahel is emblematic of the cooling down of relations between the EU and Africa. There, the relation between the EU and governments led by military juntas has further deteriorated since the military junta in Mali has moved closer to Russia, with a growing involvement of the Russian mercenary army Wagner Group. The group might soon start operating in Burkina Faso, too. 

    These developments are not new – the Wagner group has been active in Africa for a long time – but are looked at with more scrutiny from Brussels and European capitals since the Russian invasion. The invasion put a spotlight on the activities of the Wagner Group. The group’s profile became public, whereas Russian leadership had previously denied Wagner’s existence. Wagner's partners in Africa, too, kept the group’s operations secret, often denying the presence of Wagner troops in their countries. 

    Many policymakers in Brussels, but also in European capitals and embassies in Africa, see Russia and Wagner's growing expansion in Africa, including in the Sahel, as a direct threat to the EU in Africa. Russia has provided political support to a handful of African governments that have been less aligned with EU values, presenting an alternative model of governance.

    But despite promises of increased aid and trade following the Africa-Russia summit held in November 2019, Russia has brought very little to the table. And in the Sahel, the activities of the Wagner group have not led to increased security, on the contrary. A new Africa-Russia summit is scheduled for this summer.

    Russia’s ties with African governments are expanding as part of Africa’s strategy to diversify its partners. African actors are moving away from the EU, including because the EU has failed to deliver on its peace and security commitments. 

    African citizens rightfully wonder why a sophisticated 5,000-strong force such as Barkhane in Mali could not halt the expansion of violent extremist groups. France’s credibility was also undermined heavily when it attacked the military takeover in Mali while it had supported the unconstitutional takeover of power in Chad by Mahamat Déby in 2021. African actors have entered an ‘era of choice’, with emerging players increasing their political as well as security and defence cooperation with Africa, including China, Turkey and Gulf countries.

    African actors have entered an ‘era of choice’, with emerging players increasing their political as well as security and defence cooperation with Africa.
    Sophie Desmidt

    What’s next for the EU-Africa partnership on peace and security? 

    Beyond direct and financial support, there is the more fundamental question of addressing the unease that has settled into EU-Africa relations and whether the partnership on peace and security is still fit to tackle a range of long-standing issues. 

    The Russian war in Ukraine will last longer than many may wish for, putting pressure on the EU’s peace and security spending. But beyond money talks, the EU is overly focused on the competition presented by others rather than reflecting on its ‘own priorities towards Africa, and addressing past and present shortcomings’. 

    African partners understand that the EU security priorities have shifted since the invasion of Ukraine. For example, in the Sahel, there is a sense that the EU is withdrawing amidst a spiralling security crisis – even if reactions from within the region are mixed. Mali asked France to pull out its troops and, at the same time, said it felt ‘stabbed in the back’ by France’s withdrawal in its fight against terrorism. Others have welcomed the withdrawal of French special operations. 

    Much of the attention has now shifted to Niger, where France has partially reorganised its military activities (also met with some citizen protest). The EU launched a military partnership mission in Niger to fight terrorist groups. Since the withdrawal of Barkhane, but also the EU’s Takuba Task Force, in Mali, the EU has not yet announced an overhaul, or even a reboot, of its overall strategy towards the Sahel. France announced a new Africa strategy ahead of Macron’s tour of four central African countries, vowing ‘a new era’ of more limited but tailored French military engagement in Africa.

    The fall-out from the war in Ukraine should be better managed to avoid sacrificing the EU-Africa peace and security partnership. Both sides must find ways to manage the negative implications and manage their diverging views better. This can be done by being clearer on what each expects from the partnership to respond to various security challenges in Africa, but also globally and what concrete steps will be taken to live up to stated commitments.

    The views are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

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