Morocco Breaks Africa’s Neutrality with Arms for Ukraine
The decision marks a significant setback for Russia’s attempts to foster African neutrality.
At the request of the United States, the Moroccan government has opted to transfer spare parts for T-72 tanks to Ukraine, the reports said. Moroccan T-72s being extensively modernized by the Czech company, Excalibur, are being diverted to Ukraine, the reports said. The firm said it would send 90 “African” tanks to Ukraine as part of a 2.2bn Czech crown ($97m) contract funded by the US and the Netherlands. Social media images state that the refurbished vehicles are Moroccan. Each tank features improved thermal imaging, night vision, and armor.
There has been no official confirmation from Morocco, which is known to have at least 60 T-72s in storage, and which purchases more than 90% of its arms from the US. Most of its inventory consists of much more effective American main battle tanks. Morocco has a longstanding dispute with its neighbor, Algeria, which has a particularly close relationship with the Kremlin. The kingdom may therefore be more resistant to Russian messaging than others.
Russia has invested heavily in efforts to keep the continent neutral, including the opening of five so-called Russia houses in Africa this fall, which aim to raise the country’s influence, and a constant stream of regime propaganda emphasizing the Soviet Union’s 20th-century role in assisting anti-colonial movements.
The need to maintain that support is clearly important for the Kremlin and it’s easy to see why. Taken as a whole, Africa has provided fertile ground for Russian arguments. At the first key United Nations (UN) vote after the invasion, 28 African countries (out of 54) either abstained or did not vote to condemn Russia’s aggression, including Morocco. In April, when the UN voted to suspend Russian membership of the Human Rights Council, just 10 out of 54 African states backed the resolution, nine were opposed, and 35 abstained or were absent. And in November, when the UN passed a historic resolution requiring Russia to pay reparations to Ukraine, five African states voted against and 27 abstained.
That’s not to say Africa has been indifferent to the war. Ukraine’s role as a provider of basic foods to the world — Ukraine accounts for 10% of world wheat, 15% of corn, and 13% of barley, as well as half of all sunflower oil — made the conflict, and the associated Russian blockade, matters of great importance. Skyrocketing food prices are, after all, the stuff of revolutions.
The United Nations warned of the biggest food crisis in decades. At one point, the price of wheat in Africa was up by 45%, according to the African Development Bank.
The issue began to concern the Kremlin as the consequences of its actions started to affect its friends. “Africa needs food, and the Kremlin needs allies,” as the New York Times wrote, highlighting that 14 of the continent’s states rely on Russia and Ukraine for more than half their wheat imports. Noticeably, when the African Union’s head visited Moscow in June, he referred to Putin as “dear Vladimir” and attacked Western sanctions. Russia allowed Ukrainian grain exports to resume the following month.