Intervention, ideology, strategic imperatives: An examination of fluctuating relations between Russia/USSR and sub-Saharan Africa


  • Benjamin Mason University of Melbourne



Throughout the duration of the Cold War and its aftermath, sub-Saharan Africa has been a hotbed of geopolitical contestation. This article examines the role of the Soviet Union and its successor state, the Russian Federation, as a major regional actor. Beginning with Soviet intervention in the Congo in the 1950s, the article posits that sub-Saharan Africa was an initially marginal region for Soviet strategists which became increasingly significant as the Cold War progressed. Soviet strategy was driven by both raw questions of geopolitical clout and a broader attempt to export its ideology to the Third World. The article elucidates the consequences of intervention from both Soviet and local perspectives, emphasising the agency of African states who were able to leverage superpower competition in pursuit of their own interests. However, the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a complete retreat from Africa as strategic priorities in Moscow changed rapidly. Recent Russian re-engagement with the region has continuities with Soviet strategy, but there are marked shifts in its underlying rationale. Under Putin, there has been a concerted attempt to form salutary economic and security relationships with regional autocracies, predicated on transactional realpolitik.