Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made four visits to Africa in less than a year. On May 29, 2023, he arrived in Nairobi for the first time. He arrived at night and left early in the afternoon, having spent less than a day on Kenyan soil. From his meeting with Kenya’s president to a press conference that was aimed only at Russians back home and not coordinated with his hosts, here are the highlights of Lavrov’s first visit to Nairobi.
Lavrov’s Target Audience Was In Moscow
Kenyan journalists have often complained that high-level foreign bigwigs tend to ignore them when they visit Nairobi. When US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was in town, for example, the gripe was that she only took questions from American journalists and couldn’t be bothered to address the Kenyan press corps.
Lavrov’s behavior in Nairobi wasn’t much different. With the Ukraine invasion ongoing, one would have expected Lavrov to launch a PR operation to win the hearts and minds of Kenyans by talking to the Kenyan press about it. Instead, Lavrov did a whistle-stop tour through the State House and Parliament before getting back into his Ilyushin Jet and flying off to Burundi. His brief media availability was entirely in Russian and was disseminated via Telegram.
If Dr. Jill Biden was only concerned with the perceptions of the American people watching her on CNN and ABC News, Lavrov was only focused on Russians watching back home. Indeed, one might even speculate Lavrov’s performance was specifically tailored for one rather powerful Russian watching from the Kremlin.
Nairobi and Moscow Remain Out of Tune on Ukraine
Kenyan President Ruto and Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov were not exactly singing the same song on the Ukraine war. Ruto’s statement reiterated Kenya’s position that all nations must respect the territorial integrity of UN member States as outlined in the UN Charter. This can’t be good for Russia, which violated Ukraine’s territory. However, Lavrov didn’t seem too concerned about that. Indeed, in his press briefing, which was entirely in Russian, he only reflected on the Russian story:
“We gave our detailed evaluation of what is happening in Ukraine and why Russia is defending itself against an attempt against Russian language and culture as well as attempts to destroy all things Russian,” Lavrov told Russian media from Nairobi.
Lavrov’s Tour Unannounced, Nairobi Out of Loop
Lavrov’s brief Nairobi visit wasn’t announced in advance. Sure the Kenyan authorities would have known about it, but they didn’t talk about it. And neither did the Russians. After Lavrov’s visit was over, the Kenyans had no idea where he was going next.
According to State House Nairobi, Lavrov was next headed to Cape Town for a BRICS meeting. However, that was wrong. Instead, Lavrov popped up in Bujumbura, Burundi. And unlike in Nairobi, where he spoke a lot of Russian, while in Bujumbura Lavrov held a lengthy press conference in English.
The Dollar, the UN Security Council, and Fertilizers
Lavrov pushed Nairobi to decouple from the dollar, arguing that “We need to guard ourselves against the negative impact of mechanisms created by the West and build supply chains that are independent of Western blackmailing”. He also offered Moscow’s support for expanding Africa’s presence in the UN Security Council – which was well received by Nairobi – and pledged a donation of 34,000 tonnes of fertilizer to Kenya. However, Russia’s fertilizer donation comes hot on the heels of Ukraine’s donation of 30,000 tonnes of Wheat to Nairobi, which arrived earlier this year.
Lavrov landed in an Ilyushin IL-96-300 aircraft. The jet is powered by four Aviadvigatel engines and has been customized for both luxury and safety. It’s safe to bet that Lavrov’s jet is fitted with advanced communications systems and anti-missile protections. However, the aircraft is no longer in active production.
This jet is only flown by Russia and Cuba. Both countries use the aircraft to fly top state officials, including Putin. Despite having flown for over 34 years, the aircraft has a near-perfect safety record. It has had zero accidents leading to the deaths of passengers or crew in its entire history. However, one aircraft was destroyed by fire while parked on the runway at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. There were no injuries in that incident.
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