Russian President Vladimir Putin, a vocal advocate of a "multipolar" world, will expand his diplomatic horizons this week with his first visits to South Africa and Morocco, looking to expand economic ties with the two African countries.
Putin will be in South Africa on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by Morocco on Wednesday and Thursday for meetings with his South African counterpart, President Thabo Mbeki, and with Morocco's King Mohammed VI, the Kremlin said in a statement.
"Since it hopes to restore its image as a superpower, Russia wants to demonstrate its presence everywhere and is ready to develop relations with the entire world: with Latin America -- a traditional sphere of influence of the United States; with South-East Asia; and now with Africa," said Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst with the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Meeting foreign ambassadors to Moscow in June, Putin said traditional spheres of influence in Latin America and Africa were "a thing of the past," and that Russia could find a new "field of operations".
Analysts said Putin's pair of African visits will focus on economic relations.
Russian companies' chief interest in South Africa is investment in metals and diamond mining, according to a report by the Centre for Strategic and Technological Studies (CSTS).
"South Africa and Russia are in a dominant position in the diamond and platinum markets," and coordinating their approach to the markets would be "advantageous" for both countries, analyst Andrei Maslov said in the report.
Moscow, which already supplies enriched uranium to South Africa's Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town, could increase uranium supplies in the future to Johannesburg, which is developing a new type of nuclear reactor, Maslov noted.
Business aside, Putin and Mbeki will discuss the conflicts in Sudan and Côte d'Ivoire, the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo since its first round of presidential elections, the Iran nuclear stand-off and the crisis in the Middle East, the South African foreign ministry said last week.
On September 7, King Mohammed VI will offer his Russian guest an official dinner at the royal palace in Casablanca, about 100km south of the capital, Rabat. "Economic agreements on tourism, investment and commercial relations between the two countries will be signed" during the visit, the Russian embassy in Rabat said.
At the moment, economic relations between Russia and Morocco are feeble: Russia represents only 4% of Morocco's external trade, according to the CSTS report.
After a series of major arms deals between Russia and Algeria, however, "Morocco is attempting to reach deals of its own, though it does not have the same financial means," analyst Natalya Pechorina said in the report.
In March, Russia and Algeria signed a $3,5-billion contract for Russian Su-30 MK and MiG 29 SMT jets, as well as Yak-130 training planes.
Most of Morocco's arms currently come from the US and France. "Russia is looking for new arms markets and wants to calm down Morocco, which has been upset about Russian-Algerian arms cooperation," said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
"Putin's visits to Africa show that Russia is looking for potential allies and wants to diversify its contacts," Malashenko said. -- Sapa-AFP