As Russia’s war in Ukraine unfolds, USIP’s Heather Ashby says the United States should “keep an eye on Russia’s security partnerships with [African] countries” and pay close attention to “whether the rise in fuel prices or food scarcity trigger any type of unrest” on the continent.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason
Heather Ashby is Senior Program Officer at the Center for Russia and Europe at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Dr. Ashby joined the Institute of Peace after seven years at Homeland Security, where she worked at the intersection of Homeland Security and International Affairs. She also focused on U.S.-Russia relations at DHS, Dr. Ashby. Good morning.

Heather Ashby
Good morning. Thank you for having me today.

Julie Mason
Great to have you. Welcome to my dance party. It's a little early, but you know, we stayed up all night. Wow those French elections, huh? They kind of dodged a bullet there with Marine LePen.

Heather Ashby
In a certain way they did by Macron winning another term. On the other end, she did increase her vote by a couple of million people since the last election in 2017. So it's not too much of a victory for Macron.

Julie Mason
Although a win is a win, as we say in U.S. politics, I wonder how this experience will change his presidency. Like, is he going to be different now having had this serious challenge?

Heather Ashby
I think domestically, you may see an increasing focus on issues that are of concern to French people. The reason that one of the reasons LePen was able to gain so much traction is her focus on domestic issues, especially rising energy prices, jobs, those day to day bread and butter issues. I think on the international stage Macron is going to continue his policy of support for Ukraine, transatlantic unity, sanctions against Russia, and other coordination with the West.

Julie Mason
On other subjects, meanwhile, I mean adjacent to Ukraine, you have a fascinating piece about what the invasion means for Africa.

Heather Ashby
Yes, and I encourage all to visit USIP website to see that article and another that I wrote with my colleague Jude Mutah about Africa. So what has been interesting is that all of this discussion about "there's global unity against Russia, in support of Ukraine," but we need to pull back a little bit and dive deeply into which countries are supporting Ukraine. And once you reveal that you realized there are some challenges with some countries either in favor of Russia, either openly or quietly, or countries remaining more neutral to see how the war will play out.

Julie Mason
And as you write, as it so often does with Russia, a lot of it comes down to oil.

Heather Ashby
Definitely. And so one of the things that could happen as a result of the war is Europe looking for other suppliers of gas and oil by turning to African countries, countries in North Africa and West Africa, and working on joint development projects to find other sources for their oil and gas that doesn't rely on Russia.

Julie Mason
There's also an impending food scarcity. There always is in Africa, but it seems rather grim right now.

Heather Ashby
Yes, and there are other countries that are encountering a similar challenge with food scarcity. Ukraine and Russia are top suppliers for wheat, corn, sunflower, which goes into sunflower oil, vegetable oil. And so that's creating a lot of hardship in different parts of the continent. And just go back a couple of years ago, one of the triggers for the Arab Spring in certain countries was food prices. And so that's something that we're closely monitoring at the U.S. Institute of Peace, to see whether the rise in fuel prices and food scarcity triggers any type of unrest.

Julie Mason
A small note, but an interesting one, that both the U.S. and Africa are experiencing an issue from rising fertilizer costs.

Heather Ashby
Yes. I think that's a subject that doesn't receive a lot of attention when we think about what Russia exports as well as what Ukraine exports, and fertilizer is so key to growing crops. And so what we touched on in the article on the USIP website, is just the challenge of reduced fertilizer exports from Russia, and how there is a wealthy man in Africa who's looking to build a plant in Nigeria to offset that even though it will take some time. You can see people addressing, countries addressing how to encounter these shortages and what are alternatives instead of relying on Russia.

Julie Mason
You also note that that vote in the U.N., 93 U.N. member countries voted to suspend Russia's membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. 20 African countries did not vote. They either abstained or voted no. What's going on there? What's the relationships there to keep an eye on?

Heather Ashby
I think the relationships to keep an eye on is just Russia's security partnerships with countries also in Africa, and then legacy Soviet relationships, because certain parties are still in power in Africa that had ties to the Russian Soviet government. And so those ties run deep, historically. So that's something to pay attention to. The other aspect of that vote, which was interesting is it showed the reduced number of countries supporting action against Russia in the U.N., when the U.N. General Assembly passed its measure condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine, there were 144 countries and now for the Human Rights Council vote to suspend Russia's membership it's down to 93. And so that's something to pay attention to is which countries are voting which way? And which ones are abstaining from voting?

Julie Mason
You didn't address this in your piece, but I'm curious about it and I'm sure you have a viewpoint. China has also made such huge investments in Africa. And so we see China and Russia who are ostensibly, in a long term partnership now, but in Africa are they competitors?

Heather Ashby
It's a little bit different because China has so much money to give to African governments for infrastructure, building manufacturing plants, and that's something that Russia is unable to do even before the war started, because of their financial government constraints. They don't have as large of an economy as the United States or China. So some of that competition is not possible between Russia and China on that avenue. One area that could be explored more is just security partnerships in terms of its selling of arms and weapons to African countries and whether China would take advantage of the sanctions against Russia to increase arm sales to African governments, because Russia was such a large supplier of those weapons.

Julie Mason
Dr. Heather Ashby is Senior Program Officer for the Center for Russia and Europe at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Dr. Ashby, thank you so much.

Heather Ashby
All right. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

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