Two key images came out from the Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi in 2019. One was a confident Putin standing next to 43 African leaders. The other: gleeful African officials playing with Russia’s latest military hardware. But the second summit this week in St Petersburg descended into a great power cosplay. Only 17 African leaders turned up. Many absentees are quietly furious with the impact Russia’s invasion has had on food prices and are perhaps a little more sceptical about the weapons systems Moscow wants them to buy. One star guest this year is Viktor Bout, nicknamed the Merchant of Death for running guns to wars like those in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Another is Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, who last month appeared to threaten Putin in a botched coup. Putin either doesn’t want to punish Prigozhin, or he can’t. Either way, Exhibits 1 and 2 in his home town this week are his isolation and his weakness.
Photograph Alexander Kazakov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images