Kenya talks trade with Russia ahead of BRICS meeting

With a trade pact on the horizon and a shared vision to revamp the UN Security Council, Kenya swims against geopolitical currents in a bid to unlock economic opportunities and reshape global diplomacy.


Kenya ramped up trade relations with Russia on Monday, as Nairobi joined the ranks of African nations defying the West’s isolation of Moscow following President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite low trade volumes, Kenya’s President William Ruto called for a trade pact to unleash the untapped potential between the two nations and boost business cooperation, according to a press release.

Set against the backdrop of diplomatic tensions, President Ruto hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the State House in Nairobi, where they called for the overhaul of the United Nations Security Council, long accused by critics of being unresponsive and out of touch with the demands of the 21st century.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a crucial role in international decision-making, along with the United States, United Kingdom, France, and China.

President Ruto reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to upholding the principles of territorial integrity, enshrined in the UN Charter, and called for a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine war.

Lavrov’s visit comes in the run-up to a gathering of BRICS Ministers of Foreign and International Relations in Cape Town, South Africa starting on Thursday.

Under former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was replaced by Ruto in September, Kenya aligned with the West over its condemnation of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

On 21 February 2022, after Russia illegally recognised the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, a precursor to sending in its forces as “peacekeepers”, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations, ambassador Martin Kimani, stated that “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine stands breached”.  

In an emergency session on March 2, 2022, Kenya voted in favour of a United Nations voted on a resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Among other statements, the resolution “[d]eplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, “[d]emands that the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and to refrain from any further unlawful threat or use of force against any Member State,” and “[d]emands that the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

Ruto’s pursuit of new trade links with Russia may suggest a more equivocal policy towards Moscow than that pursued by his predecessor.

Historical allies

On Tuesday, the South African government granted diplomatic immunity all leaders attending the BRICS summit, meaning Vladimir Putin might be able to travel to Johannesburg.

The move came after South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa faced pressure from the international community have the Russian president arrested for war crimes at the summit, and turned over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But a South African spokesman hinted that the the offer of immunity may not override the ICC’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin.

“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference,” tweeted Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy.

Some African countries have longstanding historical ties with Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, which provided military, economic, and logistical assistance to several African countries in their struggles against colonialism and apartheid. This support included arms and military training, infrastructure development, educational scholarships, and economic aid, helping to bolster the capabilities of liberation movements and newly independent nations.

Some African countries also perceive an international system dominated by Western powers and perceive Russia as a counterbalance to this dominance.

  • Additional reporting by David Thomas

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