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Putin’s awkward handshake with ally mocked amid low turnout at summit


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday was subjected to mockery due to the low number of African leaders who have arrived for this week’s Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg.

“Putin has grabbed hold of his respected African partner and won’t let him go. The Ethiopian prime minister felt a little embarrassed,” the Belarusian news agency Nexta wrote in a post on its Telegram channel with a video of Putin shaking hands with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

When the Russia-Africa summit begins on Thursday, only 17 African heads of state are expected to appear in person, compared to 43 heads of state who attended the forum in 2019. However, Russia has said 32 additional African countries will be sending government officials or ambassadors.

The Associated Press reported that when Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was asked by the press about the reduced number of heads of state at the summit, he blamed “brazen interference by the U.S., France and other states through their diplomatic missions in African countries and attempts to put pressure on the leadership of these countries in order to prevent their active participation in the forum.”

Peskov added, “It’s absolutely outrageous, but it will in no way prevent the success of the summit.”

Putin's Awkward Handshake With Ally
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at Palazzo Chigi in Rome, Italy, on February 6, 2023. An awkward handshake between Ahmed and Vladimir Putin at the Russia-Africa summit lead to the Russian president being mocked.
Antonio Masiello/Getty

The video of the Russian leader holding on to the prime minister’s hand for a prolonged period of time made the rounds on social media and was dubbed “the most awkward handshake ever” by one Twitter user.

“Maybe they were doing it for the pics. But to not move for that amount of time is…almost difficult to do,” the person commented in response to a Twitter post about the encounter from the Russian state media outlet Sputnik.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email for comment.

Other people on social media were more damning of Putin when discussing the summit.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, called Russia a “food terrorist and blackmailer” when writing on Twitter about the decision from some African leaders to stay at home.

Some observers have cited Russia’s war in Ukraine as a reason why leaders may be opting to skip the summit, as well as Putin’s decision to end the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The end of the grain deal, which allowed Ukraine to export its grain by sea during the war with Russia, has raised concerns about global food security.

Putin has tried to assuage fears from African leaders about what the end of the agreement might mean for their countries, including offering free grain.

“I want to give assurances that our country is capable of replacing the Ukrainian grain both on a commercial and free-of-charge basis,” Putin said in a Monday statement.

Despite such rhetoric, the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security of Ukraine (SPRAVDI) criticized Russia for how Africa could be affected by Putin pulling out of the agreement.

Putin has increasingly worked towards building closer relationships with African nations in recent years, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has embarked on tours of Africa twice since Putin launched his war on Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia is also a major arms supplier to African countries, and the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries has given protection to the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as expanded its operations across the continent.


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