Russia, Mozambique: Moscow Treads a Well-Worn Path in Southern Africa

3 MINS READSep 10, 2019 | 20:43 GMT
The Big Picture

Whether in an official or private capacity, Russian military forces have been appearing in different countries across Africa over the past year. The latest reports draw focus to Mozambique, where Moscow has long maintained a close relationship with the ruling party. With Russia eager to take advantage of Mozambique's growing energy sector, military cooperation is a tried-and-tested tool to guarantee Moscow access to the southern African country's riches.

What Happened

It's a revelation that will surprise no one who has watched Russia make steady inroads into Africa in recent years: Several observers have recently reported an uptick in its military presence in Mozambique. Russian soldiers are reportedly collaborating with Mozambique's security services in several locations in the north of the country, including the port towns of Palma and Nacala and the inland town of Mueda, likely for the purpose of training local forces and supporting them with intelligence and logistics. Naturally, the location of the Russian presence has raised speculation about Moscow's intentions, given that northern Mozambique is home to a persistent jihadist threat that local forces have failed to stamp out — as well as the country's most important energy reserves.

Why It Matters

Mozambique stands as a beachhead for Russian overtures to Africa, which include increased military activities in places such as the Central African Republic and Sudan. Over the past year, Moscow and Maputo have signed a variety of military cooperation agreements, including pacts on training support. The relationship between Mozambique and Russia, however, runs much deeper than military cooperation. Just before reports emerged about Moscow's military presence in the country, the two capitals had reached several key economic agreements. In August, Rosneft signed an agreement with Mozambique under which the Russian oil producer could enter one or more of the county's oil blocks (both onshore and offshore). What's more, Russia also forgave Mozambique nearly all of its debt to Moscow, and Gazprombank is also exploring opportunities to finance a variety of multibillion-dollar projects in liquefied natural gas and offshore development. 

Mozambique stands as a beachhead for Russian overtures to Africa, which include increased military activities around the continent.

Mozambique in Russia's Africa Strategy

Russia has a long history of involvement in Mozambique, having supported the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) during its independence war against Portugal and the country's ensuing civil war. As Frelimo has continued to rule Mozambique, so has Russia continued to foster their relationship. 

Ultimately, however, there is a bigger prize for Russia: access to Mozambique's vast natural resources. Even before its current Africa push, Moscow wooed Maputo with military equipment and other forms of support to gain access to the southern African nation's oil and gas reserves. And as Maputo seeks to expand its energy production and infrastructure, Russia will continue to cultivate close ties with those in power to guarantee itself a share in Mozambique's energy windfall.

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