Three African leaders from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Egypt were among the invited global personalities who witnessed this year’s Victory Day parade on May 9 celebrating the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany during the World War II in Europe.
The event’s logo showing a white dove on a blue background with the slogan “Victory! 70 years!” splashed over a giant banner on Red Square measuring 3,300 square metres. Around the city, billboards show images of wartime commanders and joyful faces of members of the public on Victory Day. The orange-and-black St George’s ribbon, a symbol of patriotism which Russians wear to commemorate the WWII victory, also a key element of the decorative scheme.
Around 2,300 people were invited to the Red Square for celebrations, including veterans from Russia and abroad. According to media reports, Putin shared the reviewing stand with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, all members of the BRICS group.
A press release issued by the Kremlin, the festive events include grand parade on the Red Square, paying tribute to the memory of those who died on the Soviet front of World War II by laying garlands of flowers and wreaths to the Tomb of the unknown soldiers in the Alexander Gardens outside the Kremlin walls.
Also a formal photo session for Putin with top-level foreign visitors in the Alexander Gardens, after which the guests would walk to the Grand Kremlin Palace to take part in a gala reception given in the name of the Russian President, and that to be crowned with a concert on Red Square and gala fireworks.
Yury Ushakov, a Russian presidential aide, told the media here that Russian President Vladimir Putin held a number of bilateral meetings with prominent international leaders, among them President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.
On May 8, President Jacob Zuma arrived in Moscow at the invitation of his counterpart President Vladimir Putin to attend the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Prior to his departure to Moscow, Zuma said in an official statement that South Africa endorsed a “meaningful” reform of the United Nations to build a more just world order.
“This is an important occasion as it marks a significant period in the history of the world, the defeat of fascism and Nazism. It is 70 years since the end of the war and 70 years since the formation of the United Nations. Today, we recall the promise that had been made to the oppressed African majority during the war by the then South African authorities, that the post-world war order would include self-determination for the oppressed in South Africa. It was not to be. It took a few more decades to achieve our freedom and we are delighted that we triumphed against the evil that was apartheid colonialism in the end,” said President Zuma in an official statement posted to presidential website.
“With the celebration of 70 years since the end of the war and 70 years since the formation of the UN, the spotlight falls on the shape of the world order currently, especially the exclusion of Africa from the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The time has come therefore, for the world to seriously reflect on this exclusion of Africa yet again, 70 years on, and seriously discuss the question of the meaningful reform of the UN Security Council, as we commemorate the contribution of Africa to the war against fascism,” according to the President.
He added that South Africa would continue working for a better Africa and a better world in memory of all our people who contributed to the war against fascism and those who fought relentlessly in the struggle against apartheid colonialism in our country.
On his trip to Moscow, President Zuma was accompanied by Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans. As expected, Zuma and his delegation’s visit will further cement the strong and warm relations between South Africa and the Russian Federation, which are already expressed through cooperation in political, economic, social, defence and security areas.
Earlier this year, the Russian Federation worked with South Africa to facilitate the historic repatriation of heroes of the struggle for liberation Mr J. B. Marks and Mr Moses Kotane back to South Africa. They were reburied in the North West province.
On arrival, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov met with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa M. Nkoana-Mashabane. Both Lavrov and Nkoana-Mashabane underlined unreservedly the continuing importance of the Great Victory for the fate of the whole world, and both sides further discussed prospects of cooperation between Russia and South Africa in the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership.
The ministers called for further intensive efforts in Moscow and Pretoria capacity of mutually beneficial relations in trade-economic, mining, energy, cultural and other fields. The meeting expressed a common opinion on the feasibility of the development and promotion of joint economic projects in Russia and South Africa on the African continent. Lavrov informed South African delegation about the upcoming July 8-10 that is slated for Ufa BRICS summit events.
For Egypt, President Fattah Sisi used the chance to discuss bilateral economic ties during his two-day visit to Moscow. In February, Putin visited Egypt to boost bilateral ties with the Arab republic. During the visit, the two countries signed a number of agreements on cooperation in the spheres of trade, nuclear energy, space, tourism and agriculture.
According to the Kremlin website, Putin and Fattah el-Sisi discussed prospects for the development of relations between the two countries. The Russian President thanked his Egyptian counterpart for taking part in celebrations of the 70th Victory anniversary in Moscow.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, accompanied on the trip by Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, were met at the Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport by Zimbabwe’s Charge D’Affaires, Mr Andrew Mariga, and Russian government officials.
For Mugabe, the 91-year-old leader, has been criticised for his numerous foreign trips this year. Mugabe returned home two weeks ago from Indonesia having, before that, travelled to Singapore twice and also visited Algeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Japan and South Africa.
The critics argue that he now uses the cover of being African Union and SADC Chaiperson as strong pretexts for his love for foreign travel. Opposition parties say the cash-strapped administration cannot afford Mugabe’s globe-trotting which, they add, brings back little by way of meaningful returns for the country.
Despised by the West, Mugabe has been looking to China and Russia for investment and much-needed financial assistance to help pull Zimbabwe out of its economic problems. Despite that, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on an official visit to Harare last September during which the Russian Government announced plans to build a $3 billion platinum mine in the country.
Zimbabwean Government authorities said Putin and Mugabe would use the opportunity to discuss the further strengthening of diplomatic relations as well as business issues, including the Darwendale platinum project — signed in September last year — expected to be rolled next year.
“The two leaders will use the opportunity not only to cement ties but also discuss the Darwendale platinum project. The Russians are worried at the slow pace of progress and they have been saying Mugabe must sign a special lease permit urgently as their investment funds which are in roubles (the Russian currency) will depreciate with the prolonged delays,” said one government official of Mugabe’s visit.
Russia’s VI Holding and state corporations Rostec and Vnesheconombank agreed to invest an initial $1.6 billion in the joint-venture project which has a targeted production capacity of 600,000 ounces per annum, making it the biggest platinum mine in the country. Zimbabwe holds the biggest platinum reserves in the world after South Africa.
Presidential Spokesman, George Charamba, said President Mugabe held a series of meetings with Russian investors. His four-day visit to Russia was winded up with a meeting with Zimbabwean students studying at various Russian universities.
A Senior Researcher on foreign policy at the Institute of African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences told me by phone that the appearance and participation of the three African leaders in Moscow was an exceptional timing for both sides, their respective countries and Russia because “Russia needs more partners especially during this period of sanctions against the country and at this time when global politics is changing.”
Many families marked the day by visiting war memorials and exchanging reminiscences of family members who sacrificed for victory in what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War.
According official information gathered here, the parade features Russian military equipment and members of the Russian military play a major role in the celebrations and the parade showcased 16,000 military servicemen marching, 194 units of military hardware and 143 combat aircraft. According to official data, about 27 million Soviet citizens, including both civilians and servicemen, died in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941-1945.