“Former Portuguese colonies are Russia’s next target”. Sao Tome signs military cooperation agreement with Moscow (it doesn’t end there)

An agreement between the countries allows Russia to send aircraft and warships to the archipelago. Experts agree that a military relationship with Russia could call the CPLP into question

On the day the president suggested to a group of foreign journalists that Portugal should move forward with reparations for its former colonies, the latest details of military cooperation between Moscow and the former Portuguese colony of St. Petersburg played out in the corridors of St. Petersburg. Described by Dom and Principe. Days later, the deal came into effect and experts accuse Portuguese diplomacy of “inefficiency” and warn that Moscow is preparing to scrutinize other Portuguese-speaking countries.

“This is not a surprise. This agreement shows the futility of Portuguese diplomacy. It will further weaken the relationship between Portugal and Sao Tome and Russia will benefit from it. But it should not stop there. The former Portuguese colonies are the next target of Russian diplomacy,” said Professor Thiago, an expert in international relations. Andre Lopes says.

The military accord signed on April 24 and implemented on May 5 will be extended to several areas. According to the statement released by Russia, the aim is to intensify joint military training, but also the recruitment of armed forces, as well as the use of weapons and military equipment. However, the document also foreshadows the presence of Russian aircraft and warships in the archipelago.

The document, signed for an “indefinite period”, guarantees that Sao Tome and Principe will receive support in the field of education and personnel training, as well as logistical support and information sharing “within the scope of combating extremist ideology”. ”. According to the Sputnik news agency, citing a document published on the official Russian portal, the agreement “contributes to the strengthening of international peace and stability”.

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“Portugal condemns, worries and wants to show that it does not make sense to have military cooperation with a Portuguese-speaking country, while Sao Tome has a privileged relationship with a country that is a declared enemy of Europe. But Portugal will be very alone in these complaints”, Professor José Felipe Pinto, international relations expert agrees.

CNN Portugal contacted the Foreign Ministry to find out the Portuguese position on the deal, but did not receive a response.

Relations between the two countries are not new today. Like many former European colonies in Africa, Sao Tome and Principe received Moscow’s support during the decolonization war, and the former Soviet Union supported many African independence movements. During this period, the archipelago received several Russian military advisers who helped build and build the country’s armed forces.

This impact is still being felt. Despite being one of the continent’s smallest armed forces, the weapons used by the Sao Tome army were all Soviet-made. From the year of its independence, in 1976, until the late 1980s, Sao Tome frequently received Soviet military ships and installed three Russian sea and air surveillance radars in the archipelago.

In 2023, the Portuguese government tried to counter this influence by providing military supplies to the archipelago, which São Tomé’s defense minister described as “one of the country’s main partners” in the Portuguese defense sector. The material in question is about two thousand kilos of uniform material comprising about 1,500 camouflage jackets, trousers and field caps. But military co-operation between Portugal and its former colony began in 1988 with the signing of a bilateral technical cooperation agreement in the military sector.

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“Portugal should look very carefully at these countries. Sao Tome is looking for a country to deliver weapons to, but they’re knocking on the wrong door. Russia, at the moment, has many interests in Africa, but it lacks the ability to provide major military capabilities because it is focused on Ukraine,” explains Major General Isidro de Morais Pereira.

But Russian influence continues to grow across the continent. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, many French-speaking countries, along with the Russian campaign, have turned the Sahel inward and expelled French forces helping to fight Islamist terrorism. Military junta-ruled Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are increasingly estranged from their former colonial power, and Russia has wasted no time in filling this void by sending mercenaries to aid these countries.

In many African countries, Russia offers local political regimes a “survival package” in exchange for access to strategic natural resources. According to the BBC, which had access to Russian government documents, Moscow was able to change laws in several West African countries to prevent Western companies from operating in areas of strategic importance to Russia.

The Kremlin is increasingly interested in the African continent for its potential exploitation of natural resources, putting former Portuguese colonies in Africa in Moscow’s sights. In recent years, a significant part of the continent has been affected by Islamic terrorism and many African countries are willing to use increasingly unconventional solutions to end the problem and Vladimir Putin’s Russia has the right tool: mercenaries.

“The Kremlin wants to expand its influence in Mozambique. In the north of the country, in the region of Cabo Delgado, there are serious problems, and Russia can provide help in this matter. They have very skilled mercenaries, and Portugal cannot help in the same way”, highlights Thiago André Lopes.

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The university professor also highlighted the Kremlin’s diplomatic policy during Covid-19 regarding Africa. At the start of the vaccine campaign, Vladimir Putin’s Russia made millions of Sputnik vaccines available on the continent months before the West followed suit. Tiago André Lopes thinks the case exposes the “uselessness” of Portuguese diplomacy and says the Foreign Ministry will not have the “courage” to formally condemn the decision.

He argues that Portugal has been using the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries as a “diplomatic weapon” since 2015, when Equatorial Guinea joined the bloc, despite the organization being greatly weakened.

“This agreement may call the CPLP into question. The Portuguese government must take serious decisions and think about what it is doing. Any cooperation with Russia cannot be hated. Russia’s privileged relationship with these countries will break the sense of community within the CPLP”, argues Isidro de Morais Pereira.

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