Kenya will strengthen trade relations with Russia, Nairobi authorities said Monday during a surprise visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The visit of the head of Russian diplomacy to Kenya, the economic engine of East Africa, follows the visit of his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to several African countries, including Ethiopia and Rwanda, last week. Moscow and Kiev are seeking to increase their respective influence on the African continent.
While the conflict is still raging in Ukraine, President William Ruto reiterated "Kenya's unwavering position on respect for the territorial integrity of member states, as stated in the UN Charter."
Nairobi "calls for a resolution of the conflict in a manner respectful of both parties," Ruto said in a statement issued after his meeting with the head of Russian diplomacy.
The Kenyan president also lamented that trade relations between Nairobi and Moscow are weak despite the "huge potential" and announced the signing of a trade pact, according to the statement, but gave no further details.
Kenya exported $55 million (€51 million) worth of goods to Russia in 2022, compared with $266 million (€248 million) for imports, according to the latest Kenyan government figures.
Ruto also insisted that Africa be represented on the UN Security Council, where Russia is one of the five permanent member states.
Russia-Africa Summit in July
Sergey Lavrov has already visited Africa twice since the beginning of the war in Ukraine at the end of February 2022, during tours in several countries.
For his part, Kuleba last week called on some countries on the continent to end their "neutrality" on the war in Ukraine and also said he wanted to strengthen Kiev's ties with a continent of 1.3 billion people, including announcing the opening of new embassies.
We are talking with our African friends, trying to explain to them that neutrality is not the answer," the head of Ukrainian diplomacy said at a press conference on Wednesday at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa.
In February, 22 of the 54 member states of the African Union abstained or did not take part in the vote on the latest UN General Assembly resolution calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Two countries — Eritrea and Mali — voted against. Countries such as Senegal and South Africa abstained.
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Russia has ties to African countries dating back to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union presented itself as a slayer of imperialism. A Russia-Africa summit, the second of its kind, is scheduled for 26-29 July in St. Petersburg, Russia.