Moscow/Johannesburg — As protests raged in Zimbabwe’s cities last week, with police firing live ammunition at crowds who barricaded roads with burning tyres, the target of their anger was 8,000km away. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had sparked the unrest by raising fuel prices amid an economic crisis, was, instead, strolling through the Kremlin for talks with President Vladimir Putin, the first of what Moscow hopes will be many visits by African leaders this year. Amid deteriorating relations with western countries, a diplomatic campaign to win new friends and partners in Africa is at the forefront of a sweeping foreign policy pivot by Moscow, as it seeks fresh alliances to bolster its global geopolitical clout. From Algeria to Uganda, Russia is building influence in Africa, lending support to embattled strongmen, taking on natural resource projects in conflict-racked states, and positioning itself as a new power-broker without the baggage of former colonial powers. As well as w...

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