DAKAR, Senegal — President Emmanuel Macron of France traveled to West and Central Africa this week and denounced the “hypocrisy” of African leaders who have refused to call out Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Macron also warned against the growing influence of Russian “disinformation” in the region and accused Russia of using energy and food in a new type of “hybrid” war.
The French president’s three-day tour of West African countries came as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, was wrapping up a competing trip to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo. Mr. Lavrov argued that Russia was not responsible for global food shortages and called on African leaders to refuse a global order imposed by the West.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, most African countries have maintained a position of neutrality, declining to side with Ukraine and arguing that the conflict has nothing to do with them. That position has irked many Western officials, who have tried to rally African countries behind Ukraine’s cause even as Russia woos them, too.
On Wednesday, Mr. Macron sought to counter Mr. Lavrov’s rhetoric by calling Russia an “imperial colonial power” that decided to “invade a neighboring country to defend its interests.”
“When you see them poke their head into your countries, don’t think otherwise, even if they say the opposite,” Mr. Macron said at a news conference in Benin with the country’s president, Patrice Talon.
Mr. Macron disputed suggestions that France had provided more financial and military assistance to Ukraine than to its allies in Africa. In Benin, he promised to deliver more weapons to the country, which has faced sporadic attacks in its northern territories.
In Cameroon, the French president argued that “too often,” African leaders have failed “to call a war a war and say who started it” and offered an explanation: “because there are diplomatic pressures — I’m no fool,” he said as he stood at a news conference alongside Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya.
The war in Ukraine has worsened multiple food crises on the continent, including in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. But many African countries have long-running military ties with Russia, and Mr. Macron’s visit to Cameroon came just months after the West African nation signed a defense agreement with Moscow.
Mr. Macron was scheduled to visit Guinea-Bissau on Thursday. The trip, his first outside Europe since he was re-elected in May, comes as an anti-French sentiment has spread across French-speaking countries in West Africa, and weeks ahead of the end of a nine-year military mission in Mali, where France has fallen out with the country’s military junta.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is also scheduled to travel to Uganda next week, as well as to Ghana, to address the effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine on Africa.
In Benin, Mr. Macron said Russia was waging what he called hybrid war, manipulating information, food and energy to gain leverage over other countries that might side with Ukraine. He also accused Russia of deploying mercenary groups in African nations to further its interests.
“I think that it’s worrying for the African continent,” Mr. Macron said.
Elian Peltier reported from Dakar, Senegal, and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.