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Putin Ignores South Africa in New Year Messages to BRICS Leaders

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South Africa BRICS

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

South Africa has been ignored in the New Year greetings from Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin, to members of the bloc known as BRICS.

BRICS is the union of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

In an official post on the Kremlin administration website in late December, South Africa was not mentioned, but the other three nations were.

Addressing the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Putin expressed satisfaction with the fact that, during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, Moscow and Brasilia extensively cooperated at international platforms, especially within BRICS, and successfully advanced the friendly bilateral relationship.

In messages to President of the Republic of India Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the President of Russia stressed that in 2022, Russia and India marked the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relations and, relying on positive traditions of friendship and mutual respect, the countries continue to develop their specially privileged strategic partnership, carry out large-scale trade and economic projects.

In addition, both Russia and India closely cooperate on energy, military technology and other areas and further coordinate efforts in addressing important matters of regional and global agendas.

“I am confident that India’s recently started SCO and G20 presidencies will open new opportunities for building multi-dimensional Russia-India cooperation for the benefit of our peoples, in the interests of strengthening stability and security in Asia and the entire world,” Putin stressed in his message.

In sincere greetings for the New Year and the upcoming Spring Festival to President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, Putin referred to strengthening the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China. The mutual partnership demonstrates rapid progress and resistance to external challenges as both continue to maintain a meaningful political dialogue.

Putin was upbeat on a number of points. Bilateral trade is breaking records. Major trans-border infrastructure projects have been completed, including the construction of road and railway bridges across the Amur River. The years of physical fitness and sports exchanges contributed substantially to contact between the people of our countries.

“Through joint efforts, we will be able to take bilateral cooperation even higher for the benefit of the Russian and Chinese nations and in the interests of strengthening regional and global stability and security,” he stressed.

Putin expressed confidence that they will work together to enhance multi-dimensional cooperation further and continue their coordinated work on a bilateral basis and within the framework of BRICS.

In 2023, South Africa will hold the rotating presidency of BRICS, implying that South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has a lot more at hand, especially with the current global geopolitical changes. He will also work towards consolidating the growing support underway for a few countries that have applied to join BRICS. It is also pushing for the emerging multipolar world.

It is, however, speculated that the organization’s membership might expand to about 15, but that largely depends on certain necessary conditions and the collective decision of the group.

Historically, the first meeting of the group began in St Petersburg in 2005. It was called RIC, which stood for Russia, India and China.

Then later, Brazil joined and finally, South Africa in February 2011, which is why now it is referred to as BRICS. The acronym BRICS is derived from the members’ names in English. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 42 per cent of the world’s population.

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Congolese Leader Patrice Lumumba Back to Russian University

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Soviet Patrice Lumumba

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

The Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July 2023. At the Russian Foreign Ministry, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov, has held a special meeting with the heads of diplomatic missions of African states accredited in Moscow.

Bogdanov briefed them on the preparations for the summit, as well as the second International Parliamentary Conference “Russia – Africa” planned for March.

Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Alexander Babakov and Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky made presentations on the concept of the second Russia-Africa International Parliamentary Conference. It was noted that the parliamentary event is regarded as an important stage in preparation for the Russia-Africa summit.

Representatives of the leadership of the Roscongress Foundation, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Department of State Protocol of the Russian Foreign Ministry took part in the discussion and discussed the entire range of issues related to the organization of the second Russia-Africa summit.

The African diplomatic corps got acquainted with the architecture of the program of upcoming events, as well as with the organizational and protocol aspects of the stay in St. Petersburg of the heads of state and government of African countries and the leaders of leading regional organizations and inter-African associations.

The heads of African diplomatic missions expressed a consolidated position in support of the speedy restoration of the name of Patrice Lumumba in the name of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. In February 1961, the university was named Patrice Lumumba University after the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been killed in a coup that January.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the name of the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, was removed, and now authorities are attempting to fix back to influence African leaders to the forthcoming summit.

Established in 1960, it primarily provides higher education to Third World students during the Soviet days. Many students, especially from developing countries, still come to this popular university from Latin America, Asia and Africa. It is Russia’s most multidisciplinary university, which boasts the largest number of foreign students and offers various academic disciplines.

In a related development, on January 30, Ambassador-at-Large, Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov also held talks with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Integration Ashraf Sweilim as part of his trip to Cairo, Egypt.

Ozerov emphasized the significant contribution of Egypt, which co-chaired the first such summit in 2019, to the development of this format for the coordination of actions and comprehensive cooperation. The progressive build-up of Russia’s economic ties with the African continent, where a significant role in cooperation was played by Egypt, was noted.

A thorough exchange of views took place on the current state of Russian-Egyptian relations and the prospects for strengthening cooperation, including within the framework of joint activities under the auspices of the African Union and the League of Arab States. The second Russia-Africa summit will be held July 26-29 in St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in the Russian Federation.

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Russia’s Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward and Limited Impact

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Military Diplomacy in Africa

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

The South African Institute of International Affairs, a Johannesburg-based foreign policy think tank, has released a special report on Russia-Africa relations. According to the report, Russia has signed military-technical agreements with over 20 African countries and has secured lucrative mining and nuclear energy contracts on the continent.

Russia views Africa as an increasingly important vector of its post-Western foreign policy. Its support for authoritarian regimes in Africa is readily noticeable, and its soft power has drastically eroded. As suspicions arise that Russia’s growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability, its approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as kleptocracy and autocracy in Africa.

Over the years, Russia has fallen short of delivering its pledges and promises, with various bilateral agreements undelivered. Heading into the July 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg (unless the proposed date and venue change, again), Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American, and Chinese influence.

What is particularly interesting relates to the well-researched report by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a consultancy headquartered in Beijing, China. His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. His research focused on the Republic of Mali and the Central African Republic as case studies.

The report, entitled Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact,  argues that a quest for global power status drives Russia’s renewed interest in Africa. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.

While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to gain a strategic foothold in partner countries successfully, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact, and the high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.

Much of the existing literature on Russia’s foreign policy stresses that Moscow’s desire to regain great power has been pursued largely by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile African states.

Ovigwe Eguegu’s report focuses on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? And: Why has Russia chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent?

He interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic, and economic interests through a relationship with Russia. Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali, and Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and the rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting the foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.

In the report, Eguegu further looked at the geopolitical dynamics of Russia’s new interest in Africa. He asserted that during the Cold War, the interests of the Soviet Union and many African states aligned along pragmatic and ideological lines. After independence, many African countries resumed agitation against colonialism, racism, and capitalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The clash between communism and capitalism provided ample opportunity for the Soviets to provide support to African countries both in ideological solidarity and as practical opposition to Western European and US influence in Africa.

Since the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia has rekindled relationships with African countries for myriad reasons – but these can largely be attributed to pragmatism rather than ideology. More specifically, Russia’s interactions with African states have been multi-dimensional ranging from economic and political to security-oriented.

He offered the example of Moscow’s relationships with Eritrea and Sudan, which ultimately gave Russia some influence and leeway in the critical Red Sea region and countered the influence of the US and China. But the main feature of Russia’s policy is mostly ‘elite-based’ and tends to lend support to illegitimate or unpopular leaders.

The report also highlighted the myriad socioeconomic and political challenges plaguing a number of African countries. Despite these developments, some have struggled to maintain socioeconomic and political stability. The spread of insecurity has now become more complex across the Sahel region. The crisis is multidimensional, involving political, socioeconomic, regional and climatic dimensions. Good governance challenges play their own role. Moreover, weak political and judicial institutions have contributed to deep-seated corruption.

Conflict resolution has to be tied to the comprehensive improvement of political governance, economic development, and social questions. Some fragile and conflict-ridden African countries are keen on economic diversification and broader economic development. However, progress is limited by inadequate access to finance and the delicate security situation.

According to the International Monetary Fund, these fragile states must diversify their economies and establish connections between the various economic regions and sectors. Poverty caused by years of lacklustre economic performance is one of the root causes of insecurity. As such, economic development and growth would form a key part of the solution to regional security problems.

Analysts, however, suggest that Russia utilizes mercenaries and technical cooperation mechanisms to gain and secure access to politically aligned actors and, by extension, economic benefits like natural resources and trade deals.

Arguably, adherence to a primarily military approach to insecurity challenges is inadequate and not the correct path for attaining peace and development. Furthermore, fragmented, untransparent and unharmonized peace processes will impede considerably sustainable solutions to the existing conflicts in Africa.

Worse is that Russia’s strengths expressed through military partnerships fall short of what is needed to address the complexities and scale of the problems facing those African countries. Moscow certainly has not shown enough commitment to comprehensive peacebuilding programs, security sector reforms, state-building, and improvement to governance and the rule of law.

Surely, African countries have to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything tangible from meetings, conferences and summits. Since the first Russia-Africa summit held in 2019, very little has been achieved. Nevertheless, not everything is perfect. There is some high optimism that efforts might gain ground. The comprehensive summit declaration, at least, offers a clear strategic roadmap for building relations.

At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the stringent sanctions imposed following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions and the toll of the war on the Russian economy is likely to see Moscow redirect its practical attention towards ensuring stability within its borders and periphery.

Notwithstanding its aim of working in this emerging new multipolar world with Africa, Russia’s influence is still comparatively marginal, and its policy tools are extremely limited relative to other international actors, including China and Western countries such as France, European Union members, and the United States. This article was also published at Geopolitical Monitor.com

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Lukashenko Hands Over Agricultural Equipment to Zimbabwe

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Belarus President Lukashenko and Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa agricultural equipment

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

On January 30, Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, paid a working visit to hand over in a special ceremony Belarusian agricultural vehicles, tractors and equipment to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare, Zimbabwe.

“First of all, I want to thank the Americans and the entire Western world for having imposed sanctions against us. Otherwise, American and German tractors would have come instead of Belarusian ones to this huge field,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader noted that in Zimbabwe, there are the friends of Belarus, with whom Minsk is building cooperation for the sake of achieving the common good.

After years of negotiations, Zimbabwe finally received its $58 million farm mechanization facility from Belarus, while another deal worth $100 million was signed, according to reports from Zimbabwe’s presidency in Harare.

Zimbabwe and Belarus agreed on assembling 3000 tractors. They also agreed to supply Zimbabwe with different kinds of machinery and equipment made in Belarus for the agriculture and timber industry. Both have further agreed to establish a mechanization programme for the farming and timber industries.

It provides for over 800 units of equipment to be delivered in two batches. These include, among others, 60 self-propelled grain harvesters, 210 precision seed drills, 474 tractors of different power capacities, fifth wheel trucks with semi-trailers for transportation of heavy equipment and four dump trucks.

The agreement makes provision for other equipment such as six semi-trailers with hydraulic manipulators for transportation of construction machinery, 10 drop-side trucks, firefighting equipment critical in forest business, cities and other communities and emergency rescue operations. The agricultural equipment also includes 30 motorcycles and a complete set of spare parts for every type of machinery and equipment delivered.

Zimbabwe has been looking for foreign partners from other countries to transfer technology and industrialize its ailing economy. The report said that the government had launched a similar facility from a US company, John Deere, estimated at $50 million, intended to boost agricultural production. Negotiations are also underway with Chinese manufacturers to set up bus assembling plants locally after the government recently procured buses from the Asian country.

Zimbabwe and Belarus officials noted that the unique relationship would help in technical skills transfer and transform the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe.

“The implementation of the project involves an approach that includes not only full responsibility regarding warranty and service support, provision of spare parts, training of local specialists, but also providing advanced technologies, comprehensive decisions and solutions in agriculture for every agricultural period from cultivation, seeding, irrigation, planting to crop harvesting,” according to the report from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture.

In addition to the statement, the Belarus cooperation deal and the commissioned John Deere project for the supply of agriculture mechanization equipment were a culmination of the re-engagement policy of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The principle for re-engagement and engagement is open to all countries worldwide. Zimbabwe is ready to cooperate in business with external countries and for the benefit of the people. President Mnangagwa has reiterated that Zimbabwe is open for business.

Mnangagwa’s working visits to Minsk have helped to break barriers that have impeded progress in its economic diplomacy and to seek increased business cooperation with Belarus, an ex-Soviet republic and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Eurasian Economic Union members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Mineral exports, gold, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners of this country. The mining sector remains very lucrative. Its commercial farming sector is traditionally another source of exports and foreign exchange. In the southern African region, it is the biggest trading partner of South Africa. Zimbabwe is one of the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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