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The Kremlin takes an African safari

President Dmitry Medvedev and his entourage of 400 hope to rebuild Russia's status – and sign energy deals – during their African tour this week.

By Correspondent / June 24, 2009

MOSCOW – Nearly two decades after the Soviet Union's influence evaporated, Russia is returning to Africa in force with aims of catching up to China and Western powers in the scramble for the continent's resources, markets, and political allegiances.

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President Dmitry Medvedev and an entourage of 400 Russian businessmen and economic officials arrived in Nigeria Wednesday to sign a variety of oil, gas, and nuclear energy deals. This is the longest African tour by any Kremlin leader. The group visited Egypt Tuesday and will make stops in Angola and Namibia later this week.

A major purpose of the trip is to show the flag and proclaim Russia's return as a serious player on the global stage, analysts say.

"Russia's more active approach toward Africa is part of a more general assertiveness of Moscow around the world these days," says Vladimir Shubin, deputy director of the official Institute of Africa in Moscow.

"The whole architecture of global politics is taking on new shapes," he adds.

Nuclear and oil deals

On Wednesday Mr. Medvedev will sign an accord on "peaceful uses of nuclear energy," which could lead to the construction of Russian atomic power plants in Nigeria.

Moscow's state-run nuclear engineering firm, Rosatom, whose head, Sergei Kiriyenko, is traveling with Medvedev, has already placed bids to build the first-ever civilian nuclear plants in Egypt.

Most attention is focused on a $2.5 billion accord between Russia's government monopoly Gazprom – the world's biggest gas company – and the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, which will involve exploration, pipeline construction, and an infusion of Russian technological expertise. Though Nigeria possesses the world's seventh-largest reserves of natural gas, they remain largely undeveloped.

The Kremlin's key goal appears to be acquisition of a major role in the proposed Trans-Sahara gas pipeline, which would funnel Nigerian gas to Europe and – perhaps ironically – has been heavily promoted by the European Union as a means of diversifying the continent away from its present dependence on energy supplies from Russia.

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