(Bloomberg) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov returned to Africa Monday for the second time in 10 days as the long-serving top diplomat focuses on the region amid a scarcity of international contacts since the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lavrov was expected to start a two-day visit to Mali after holding talks in OPEC member Iraq. He’s also traveling to Sudan and Mauritania this week, according to media reports.

The Russian foreign minister, who before the Kremlin’s Feb. 2022 invasion was typically on a whirlwind of diplomatic contacts, received his first foreign counterparts this year in Moscow at the end of January. He held talks with the Egyptian and Pakistani foreign ministers and the first deputy Chinese foreign minister. 

On his first swing through the continent last month, Lavrov visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea. His only other foreign engagement in January was a bilateral meeting in Belarus, whose authoritarian regime is also under sanctions for allowing its soil to be used as a staging-post for the assault on Ukraine.

Other than Africa, “where else would he fly?” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. “Before he was constantly in Europe, attending various conferences. That’s all over.” 

In contrast to its usual pre-travel announcements, the Russian Foreign Ministry last week gave no forthcoming schedule for Lavrov, with news of his trips this week to Iraq and African nations emerging only later.

The US has been pressuring the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to curb trade ties with Russia, and is seeking to persuade Middle East allies to help push Libya and Sudan to expel Russian mercenary group Wagner, the Associated Press reported. Mali has also hired Wagner contractors.

“There’s a big fight” taking place to try and stop Russia from developing its influence in the Middle East and Africa, Lukyanov said. 




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