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U.S. Increasing Pressure on African Countries to Choose Sides on Ukraine

State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria J. Nuland speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, January 27, 2022. The United States on Thursday urged China to use its influence with Russia to discourage an invasion of Ukraine. Susan Walsh / POOL / AFP

The United States and its allies are increasing pressure on African countries to choose sides in the conflict in Ukraine. U.S. officials are engaging with African journalists in order to sway public discussion about the conflict, while diplomatic pressure continues behind the scenes, notably during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s North African tour last week.

Victoria Nuland, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs gave an interview to The Africa Report last week. This follows a briefing for the African press on the crisis by her colleague, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, in early March.

In the interview, Nuland increased pressure on African countries not to weaken anti-Russian sanctions: “What’s most important is that as Russia tries to evade the sanctions that we have put on, that countries in Africa do not become sanctuaries for dirty Russian money, for oligarchs’ ill-gotten gains, for them to stash their airplanes and their yachts,” she said.

She framed solidarity in the conflict as crucial to African economies dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports. But she paid more attention to its impact on the U.S.-led rules-based international order:

[W]e built this rules-based order together. All the democracies around the world have a stake in a global system, where big, powerful countries cannot just turn their militaries on their neighbor when they feel like conquering their territory. We all have to stand up for the rules that we built that have made us more secure, more free and more prosperous over the last 60-70 years. That’s true for us, it’s also true for most of the countries of Africa.

This explicit pressure to choose sides in the conflict comes as Chinese diplomats are intensifying their own diplomatic campaign premised around the message that small countries shouldn’t be forced to choose sides.

The pressure also didn’t draw much enthusiasm from African commentators, who complained about lukewarm U.S. support on African conflicts and pointed out that Nuland wasn’t bringing much to the table.

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