Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi before the two leaders opened the first ever Russia-Africa Summit on Wednesday.
The two-day event will see more than 3,000 delegates from across Russia and Africa to discuss an array of topics from nuclear energy to mineral extraction.
All 54 African states sent a representative to the meeting, including 43 heads of state or government, according to Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov.
"We currently export to Africa $25 billion ($22.5 billion) worth of food — which is more than we export in arms, at $15 billion. In the next four to five years I think we should be able to double this trade, at least," Putin said.
Areas of investment
Russia has dominated arms sales in Africa but this time, Putin has promised further African cooperation without "political or other" interference. This comes as a reassurance to African states who have previously expressed concerns about dependence on China.
Russia is hoping to sign a potential military cooperation agreement with Ivory Coast. The West African country is expected to send a delegation of 70 people to Sochi, including President Alassane Ouattara.
In addition to "military and security cooperation" with Africa, Putin also pledged Russian commitment to combat the Ebola virus with aid, and the training of "African cadres" by Russian universities.
"Joint projects are underway in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare and education," Putin said in his opening remarks.
Playing catch-up with China
Russia had played a more crucial role in the continent during the Soviet era, supporting independence movements and training government leaders in former Soviet client states such as Angola and Ethiopia.
Moscow's relations with Africa deteriorated after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, with China taking over as the continent's key foreign business partner.
In 2000, Beijing established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, pledging tens of billions of dollars into Africa.
mvb/rt (AFP, dpa, Lusa)