Vladimir Putin quotes Nelson Mandela as he courts African nations


Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary meeting at the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg

Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary meeting at the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg – MIKHAIL TERESHCHENKO/AFP

Vladimir Putin quoted Nelson Mandela as he courted African nations in a bid to shore up support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Putin’s remarks came on the second day of a summit in St Petersburg with African leaders and officials.

“Sovereignty is not something you gain once and for all; you have to constantly fight for it,” the Russian president told the roundtable.

Putin then evoked Mandela’s famous quote that the “greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall”.

“It’s the same thing with sovereignty of a state. We have to fight for it, not give up, not bend under external pressure,” he said.

Vladimir Putin with other leaders attending the Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg

Vladimir Putin with other leaders attending the Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg – TASS/REUTERS

The Russian leader, who on Thursday pledged free grain supplies to six of the countries attending the summit, has repeatedly sought to exploit anti-colonial sentiment on the continent as Moscow’s relations with the West have plummeted over the invasion of Ukraine.

In his address on Friday, Putin namechecked an array of historic African anti-colonial heroes, from Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, to Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s assassinated independence leader.

The charm offensive came after several African leaders pulled out of the St Petersburg summit at the last minute.

In total, just 17 heads of state attended, fewer than half the 43 who participated in a similar conference in Sochi in 2019.

The Kremlin has accused the United States and its Western allies of trying to derail the summit by putting “unprecedented pressure” on African countries not to attend.

Vladimir Putin told African leaders that he respected their peace plan for Ukraine and was studying the proposals

Vladimir Putin told African leaders that he respected their peace plan for Ukraine and was studying the proposals – TASS/REUTERS

Several African leaders last month shuffled between Moscow and Kyiv with a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.

Moscow rebutted the plan’s key terms, including a Russian withdrawal from occupied territories in Ukraine.

But in an apparent gesture of reconciliation, Putin told African leaders on Friday that he respected the proposals and was studying them.

Putin also advocated for expanding the presence of African nations in the United Nations to reflect their growing contribution to world affairs.

“I think it’s time to rectify the historic wrong against the African continent,” he said, speaking about a proposal to reform the UN Security Council.

Just 17 heads of state attended the Russia-Africa summit, fewer than half the 43 who participated in a similar conference in Sochi in 2019

Just 17 heads of state attended the Russia-Africa summit, fewer than half the 43 who participated in a similar conference in Sochi in 2019 – TASS/REUTERS

On the sidelines of the summit on Thursday, several African dignitaries were seen meeting Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious chief of the Wagner mercenary group, whose fighters have withdrawn from Ukraine but remain active in parts of Africa.

Among those to greet Prigozhin was a senior official from the Central African Republic (CAR).

On Friday, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the country’s president, thanked Putin for helping to save his country’s democracy and avoid a civil war.

Wagner mercenaries were first deployed in the CAR in 2018 and have since been implicated in numerous alleged rights abuses there.

Earlier this month, reports emerged that dozens more of the group’s fighters had arrived in the country ahead of a constitutional referendum on Sunday that could remove a two-term presidential limit and enable Touadéra to remain in office past 2025.

Putin on Friday made no mention either of Russia’s military presence in Africa or of Wagner’s role in affairs on the continent.

The future of the Wagner group remains uncertain after it launched a short-lived rebellion against Russia’s military top brass last month.

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