Lavrov’s Trip To Eritrea Advances Russia’s Multipolar Strategy For The Horn Of Africa

Andrew Korybko 

Eritrea’s consistent defense of its sovereignty and the newfound geostrategic context in which Russia is operating have resulted in Moscow regarding Asmara as politically reliable concerning being a multipolar partner in its own right, Russia’s gateway to Ethiopia, and a regional logistics center for expanding trade with the Global South. 

A Truly Historic Visit

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid his first trip to Eritrea last week on the final leg of his latest Africa tour, which was also the first time that any of Russia’s top diplomats visited that country. While there, he met with President Isaias Afwerki and his counterpart Foreign Minister Osman Saleh. The Russian Foreign Ministry subsequently published a press release of his visit and transcripts of his comments after meeting with President Afwerki and his press conference with Foreign Minister Saleh.

The comprehensive expansion of economic ties, focusing on developing Massawa’s related connectivity potential, and military ones formed the basis of their discussions according to these official reports. The two sides also talked about further developing their socio-political cooperation as well, including at the regional and UN level. Furthermore, President Afwerki was invited to participate in this summer’s second Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, which will greatly enhance their ties if he does.

Altogether, it can be concluded that Lavrov’s trip to Eritrea sought to advance Russia’s multipolar strategy for the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia functions as the core in this respect due to its much deeper and longer relations with Russia, not to mention its status as a regional leader due to its much larger economy, military, and population. Nevertheless, Eritrea still fulfills a crucial role for Russia in these strategic calculations for several reasons that will now be explained and put his visit into context.

Eritrea Was A Multipolar Pioneer Even Before Russia

For starters, President Afwerki is a bonafide multipolar revolutionary who’s consistently defended Eritrea’s sovereignty in the face of immense pressure from the US-led West’s Golden Billion in the three decades since independence. He foresaw long ago that the global systemic transition would inevitably move towards multipolarity from its prior state of unipolarity, ergo why he refused to capitulate to that aforementioned de facto New Cold War bloc’s coercion against his country.

Under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, incumbent President Vladimir Putin’s first two terms, and former President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia admittedly attempted to strike a balance between the Golden Billion and the jointly BRICS– & SCO-led Global South of which it’s a part instead of accelerate the global systemic transition to multipolarity like President Afwerki has always tried to do. It was only after the failure of this grand strategy last February that this Eurasian Great Power emulated Eritrea’s policies.

The decision to commence Russia’s ongoing special operation in Ukraine heralded a defining moment in world history whereby Moscow decisively broke with the Golden Billion and thus began to lead the global systemic transition to multipolarity. To this end, President Putin articulated on several occasions last year what can, in hindsight, be referred to as his Global Revolutionary Manifesto, which included Foreign Minister Lavrov’s pledge to help African countries fully complete their decolonization processes.

Russia’s Multipolar Strategy In The Horn Of Africa

In practical terms, this takes the form of scaling its “DemocraticSecurity” assistance to various partners like the Central African RepublicMali, and likely soon (or already according to some reports) Burkina Faso to help them counteract Western-exacerbated Hybrid War threats to their societies. Parallelly, Russia defends African countries like Ethiopia at the UN from Western political pressure and is actively exploring ways to expand real-sector economic cooperation.

Regarding that Horn of Africa giant, Moscow promised in December 2021 to play an important role in its post-war rehabilitation, which is presently being pursued due to last November’s ceasefire. However, this mutually beneficial goal requires reliable connectivity between them, which is impeded by Ethiopia’s landlocked nature. Neither neighboring Djibouti nor Sudan can be depended on since their Golden Billion partners could potentially pressure them into impeding this.

Eritrea, by contrast, has proven that it’ll never allow itself to be influenced by anyone. Accordingly, Russia, therefore, regards it as the most politically reliable coastal state in the Horn of Africa, which thus enables that country to play the indispensable transit role that Moscow and Addis require for optimizing their noble post-war rehabilitation goal. Eritrea’s newfound geo-economic importance to Russia’s regional strategy explains the timing of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit.  

With these imperatives in mind, it appears likely that Massawa will function as Russia’s future gateway to Ethiopia, thus enabling Eritrea to benefit from their bilateral trade. Not only does it stand to play an irreplaceable role in facilitating the further comprehensive expansion of the Russian-Ethiopian Strategic Partnership, which is expected to supercharge multipolar processes across the Horn of Africa, but Eritrea is also, therefore, by default, becoming indispensable to each of their respective grand strategies.

Eritrea’s Indispensable Grand Strategic Role

Ethiopia regards now-friendly Eritrea as its most politically reliable means for maximizing economic ties with its Russian partner since Djibouti’s susceptibility to the Golden Billion’s secondary sanctions pressure and outstanding territorial tensions with Sudan make both undependable in this respect. Russia has always remained a pillar of the Ethiopian grand strategy, with Moscow’s role being more important than ever nowadays, which thus imbues Eritrea with even greater significance to Addis.

Likewise, Ethiopia has always remained a pillar of Russian grand strategy, but its role is more important than ever nowadays, and thus also imbues Eritrea with an even greater significance to Moscow. The Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement overseen by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Afwerki over the past few years also made these neighboring countries each other’s top strategic partners in and of themselves, with this bilateral basis now being built upon to facilitate their respective ties with Russia.

As for Russian-Eritrean relations, ties have been solid since the latter’s independence but are now poised to become unprecedentedly strategic because of Asmara’s irreplaceable role in facilitating Moscow’s economic engagement with Addis as its geostrategic coastal status. Regarding the second-mentioned point, Russia is nowadays focusing on trade ties with the Global South in response to the Golden Billion’s sanctions, making regional logistics facilities like Eritrea’s a priority.

Concluding Thoughts

Considering the insight shared in this analysis, several conclusions can be made about Foreign Minister Lavrov’s trip to Eritrea. First, the combination of the global New Cold War context, Russia’s leading role within it, and the regional context of Ethiopia’s peace process explain why Moscow dispatched its top diplomat to that country for the first time in history since these factors collectively imbued Eritrea with a much greater significance for Russia than ever before.

Second, Eritrea’s consistent defense of its sovereignty and the newfound geostrategic context in which Russia is operating have resulted in Moscow regarding Asmara as politically reliable concerning being a multipolar partner in its own right, Russia’s gateway to Ethiopia and a regional logistics center for expanding trade with the Global South. And third, Eritrea is thus expected to play an outsized role in shaping the dynamics of the New Cold War in Africa due to these aforementioned factors.

What all of this shows is that Eritrea’s geostrategic star is rising exactly as President Afwerki presciently foresaw would inevitably happen decades ago. Having successfully weathered the twists and turns of his country’s post-independence history, which was by no means easy considering previously fierce tensions with Ethiopia and immense pressure from the Golden Billion, he’s now successfully placed Eritrea in the position to finally reap the benefits of multipolarity that its people truly deserve.

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