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Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Friday, 09 July 2021

Ethiopia is the latest flashpoint in the ongoing US-Russia Cold War 2.0
By Akshay Narang
July 01, 2021
US President Joe Biden started a new Cold War, as soon as he came to power. But now things are spiralling out of control, as Cold War 2.0 spreads to new regions. Ethiopia is the latest flashpoint in the new US-Russia Cold War. The strategically-located country in the Horn of Africa is putting the US and Russia at the crossroads yet again, as both of them compete for influence in the conflict-hit country.

Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray has been facing insurgency since November last year. Ethiopia blames the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or the TPLF, for launching attacks on Ethiopian forces. The US is alleged to have been supporting the TPLF for the last 20 years, which is provoking pro-government groups in Ethiopia to support Russia. Moscow itself seems to have no qualms in supporting the Ethiopian government, while the US imposes sanctions and visa restrictions on Ethiopian government officials. 

Within Ethiopia, there is a growing concern that the US could get deeply involved, given its history of showing sympathy for the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement. This is allowing Russia to get deeply involved in the East African country, while Ethiopia feels that Moscow’s support can help it withstand American intervention. 

Pro-government protesters in Ethiopia have actually been protesting against the US since May when the US imposed restrictions on economic and security assistance to the East African nation over the Tigray conflict. Some of the slogans raised at anti-US rallies include “USA show us your neutrality”, and “Ethiopia doesn’t need a caretaker”. 

At a pro-government rally organized in May by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Youth, Addis Ababa Mayor said, “We will never kneel down. The preconditions and travel restrictions by the U.S. and its allies are completely unacceptable. It needs to be corrected.” 

Anyhow, the US continues its intervention in Ethiopia over the Tigray conflict. The US has also imposed visa restrictions and as per the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the punitive measures are targeted at serving or former Ethiopian and Eritrean government officials, members of security forces and TPLF members. 

However, American sanctions have damaged US-Ethiopia reactions badly. Former US ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn said, “The relationship between the US and [Ethiopia and Eritrea] will go through difficult times in the weeks ahead unless significant progress is made in resolving the humanitarian problem in the Tigray region.”

But the bigger problem for the Biden administration is that opposition against the US is fast taking the shape of Ethiopian support for Russia. Protesters in Ethiopia and Mali are found waving Russian flags. In Ethiopia, waving Russian flags has become a symbol of anger against the US ‘meddling’ in the East African country’s internal affairs. 

Russia is itself promoting better ties with Ethiopia. Ethiopian Ambassador to Russia Alemayehu Tegenu Aargau has also revealed that Ethiopia and Russia have also inked a deal on Russian Sputnik V vaccine supplies to the East African nation. While the US is losing influence in Ethiopia for cutting economic and security assistance, Russia is ramping up its presence through constructive help to the conflict-hit nation. 

Russia’s presence in Africa is therefore increasing rapidly, while the US continues to face setbacks owing to its interventionist policies. Today, Russia enjoys evolving ties with Ethiopia’s two main neighbours- Sudan and Somalia. On the other hand, the US has lost influence in both these countries due to its past history of bombing Sudan and launching the so-called ‘war on terror’ in Somalia. 

Till 2017, Russia did not enjoy much influence in the African Continent. But today, Moscow is getting heavily involved in Africa. In Mali, for example, Russia is said to be supporting the military junta which recently carried out a second coup in a span of one year. Even the general public in Mali seems to support Russia. 

Be that as it may, if Russia is able to further expand its presence in Africa via Ethiopia, then the US will have only itself to blame. Biden’s interventionist policies in Ethiopia are simply allowing Russia to ramp up its influence in the East African country, while warding off perceived American attempts to play up the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement and weaken Addis Ababa.  

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