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Zimbabwe and Belarus Strengthen Business Ties

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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It was, indeed, one more step for Zimbabwe to break all barriers that have impeded progress in its economic diplomacy and to seek an increased business cooperation with Belarus, an ex-Soviet republic and a member of the newly created Eurasian Economic Union.

The member-states of the Eurasian Economic Union are the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

While addressing the Zimbabwean delegation headed by the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko noted that Belarus and Zimbabwe have no problems in the relationship. “We don’t have any issues in our relations. There are no barriers to all-round cooperation between our countries. We are ready to do everything that we can for your country, for southern Africa,” the Belarusian leader said, according to the official website.

President Lukashenko expressed the conviction that the visit of the Zimbabwean Vice President to Belarus will be a landmark one. “It will be a historic visit. I am confident, we will open a new page in our relations,” Lukashenko noted, and further expressed confidence that through the cooperation with Belarus, Zimbabwe will develop interaction with other countries in the region. So much so that it needs the goods which Belarus manufactures.

“I think that it would be good if we stated our cooperation with specific projects. Let them be not many. But it will be a signal to business in your country and also neighboring countries towards the cooperation with our country. We are very interested in it,” said the President of Belarus.

In turn, Emmerson Mnangagwa noted that the goal of his visit was to expand and strengthen cooperation between Belarus and Zimbabwe. He expressed solidarity with Lukashenko’s opinion that the two countries had no issues in the political relations.

The two reaffirmed their countries’ interest to bolster mutually beneficial agreements in a wide range of areas. They agreed to continue the formation of a legal base and institutional framework of bilateral relations.

Zimbabwe is interested in expanding trade and economic cooperation as well as ties in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture and mining industry. “We are also aware of the current political situation in Belarus. We should acknowledge that, the same as your country, we are under the pressure of sanctions. In this respect, we believe we should develop political contacts and cooperation in the trade and economic area,” said Mnangagwa.

In a separate meeting, Belarus Prime Minister, Andrei Kobyakov told Mnangagwa that “Belarus has a recognized expertise and unique technologies, especially in agricultural machinery. We are ready to supply the whole range of engineering products to Zimbabwe: mining, agricultural and road-building machinery,” Kobyakov said.

The Belarusian side is interested in supplying high-quality trucks made by Minsk Automobile plant. Belarus offers modern financial instruments and attractive conditions for sales of domestic equipment such as export credits and international leasing. Among other possible areas of bilateral cooperation between Belarus and Zimbabwe, Kobyakov suggested education and deliveries of potash fertilizers. “We are ready to fully meet the needs of Zimbabwe, including within the framework of long-term mutually beneficial contracts,” he said.

According to the Belarusian head of government, the prospects are good in the field of scientific and technical cooperation. He suggested starting the cooperation with the technologies of remote sensing data processing, the use of microbiological fertilizers, water purification, and the use of multi-purpose unmanned aircraft systems developed by the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

“Certainly an important focus of our work should be the development of the legal framework of our relations. We also need to speed up the formation of a joint commission on trade and economic cooperation, to start substantive work on specific areas,”the Belarusian Prime Minister said.

Mnangagwa and his delegation, made of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya and senior Government officials, were then invited to visit the Belarus companies that produce goods necessary for Africa.

The delegation toured the Belaz Mining Manufacture Company which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heavy-duty industrial vehicles for the mining and metallurgical industries. They are also used in construction of major hydro-technical projects and roads.

While the history of the plant dates back to 1948, the first Belaz trucks for use in open-pit quarries were designed in 1960. Amidst ever-growing competition Belaz is constantly working to improve mine dump trucks and create new high-efficiency vehicles. As well as dump trucks, Belaz also manufactures tractors, road rebuilding equipment, railway freight cars, bulk mineral fertilizers and other heavy duty equipment.

Mnangagwa said by working with Belaz, Zimbabwe can achieve its goal of becoming a mining powerhouse. “We have recognised from our discussions that Belarus is at the top of the range in terms of mining machinery. We are ready to deepen and broaden our economic ties with Belaz. Zimbabwe will soon grow into a mining giant and our partnership with the company will help us realise this dream.”

Speaking during the tour, Belaz’s Director General, Peter Parkhomchik said his company was on the verge of finalising arrangements with a number of Zimbabwean mining firms following the recent deal, which saw the firm supplying machinery to Hwange Colliery.

“We are negotiating other agreements regarding other deals on extraction of diamonds, gold, chrome and other minerals. When our representative was in Zimbabwe recently, we reached agreements regarding financing with the Africa Development Bank. Your country is very rich in minerals, we have the equipment, so our relationship will be mutually beneficial,” he said.

Zimbabwe and Belarus signed agreements worth up to $150 million to strengthen economic cooperation between the two countries. The agreements will be anchored on four sectors, which are mining equipment, road and dam construction and agriculture.

Besides Belarus in the newly created Eurasian Economic Union, Zimbabwe has good business relations with Russia. In September 2014, Russia and Zimbabwe also signed a deal to jointly develop the African nation’s biggest platinum mine. The agreement to develop the Darwendale deposit, the world’s second largest platinum mine, was signed by Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov and Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.

Darwendale is the world’s second largest platinum deposit. The deposit located in the Darwendale valley has proven reserves of 19 tons of platinum and 755 tons of platinum group metals, including other precious and semi-precious metals.

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 a 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). The SADC key aim is to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient productive systems, deeper co-operation and integration, good governance, and durable peace and security, so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Eastern Europe

Did Russia Really Win in the 2008 August War?

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Eleven years have passed since the short Georgian-Russian war started on August 7-8 in 2008. As every discussion on who started the war generally is, the Georgian-Russian one too is about finding moral grounds for military actions which both sides took at the time.

Morality in geopolitics, and the Georgian-Russian conflict is indeed caused by pure geopolitical calculations, is at most times a superfluous thing. All these years the Russians have been trying to convince the world and the public inside the country that the Russian military moves actions and subsequent recognition of the independence of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions were the only possible and correct actions to be taken. The Georgians also have their dilemmas: some marginal political figures still believe that it was the Georgian government that was most to blame for the catastrophe of 2008. Though close geographically, these diverging narratives and the constant need to prove one’s own truth says a lot about how far apart Georgia and Russia have grown in the past decade.

11 years since the war and it is still unclear what Russia has gained from its military and diplomatic actions since 2008. True, military build-up in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region limited Tbilisi’s ability to become an EU/NATO member state. Moreover, Russian intervention into Georgia in 2008 also showed the West how far Moscow can go if a strategic decision is made to draw Georgia into the alliances. At the time (August-September 2008) those seemed to be long-term (strategic) victories for Moscow. In international relations and geopolitical calculations, you can stop a country from attaining the aims harmful to you, but in the long run you will be unable to reverse the process by forceful actions alone: you have to provide a counter-policy to turn an unfriendly state into an amenable neighbor.

Put all of this into the Russian case. More than a decade has passed since 2008, only a few not-so-important states recognized Georgia’s territories as independent entities. The Georgian public is overwhelmingly anti-Russian, the last hopes of a grand geopolitical bargain – the return of the territories in exchange for reversing EU/NATO aspirations – have disappeared among the Georgian public, and support for western institutions so far has only increased.

In the end, though Moscow waged a reasonably costly war in 2008, took and still experiences a diplomatic burden for its moves against the West, and has yet to attain its grand geopolitical goal of reversing Georgia’s pro-western course. Politicians in Moscow, at least strategists behind the scenes, all understand that Georgia’s persistence, which seems naive today, might turn into serious business if Russia’s geopolitical positions worsen elsewhere in Eurasia.

Indeed, there are signs that Russian influence is set to diminish further in the former Soviet space as the country’s economy is unlikely to be attractive to the neighboring states. Imagine a scenario where Russian internal problems (Putin’s upcoming succession, economic downturns, China’s rise, stronger Ukraine, etc.) weigh ever stronger upon the Russian decision-makers in the 2020s, then Georgia’s western aspirations might become more concrete – it will be easier for the West to make a strategic decision to draw Tbilisi into EU/NATO.

Overall, Russia definitely gained significant results in 2008, but in the long run it did not change the strategic picture in the South Caucasus, though it did produce a grand design for geopolitical domination in north Eurasia: years after the war, Moscow initiated its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to draw its neighbors into one economic space – a prerequisite for building a world power. Ideally, it should have attracted Russia’s major neighbors and it would have served the people of the former Soviet space economically. But Moscow failed to get Ukraine and other states involved: without Kiev, the EEU, if not dead, is at least a marginal project. This means that Russian policies towards Georgia and the wider South Caucasus remain the same as before 2008 – keeping foreign powers out of the region, while failing to provide an alternative vision for Tbilisi.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania’s new chief of defence has no chance

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Lithuania’s new chief of defence, Major General Valdemaras Rupsys calls himself a realist though it seems as if he is a fatalist with no hope to change anything in the national armed forces.

In a detailed interview with BNS Valdemaras Rupsys demonstrates his inability and even lack of hope to modify national military system. He distinctly reveals his plans.

Major General Valdemaras Rupsys says he will seek to accelerate new armored vehicle and artillery system purchases if the country’s defense spending makes this possible.

The key words here are “if the country’s defense spending makes this possible”. The matter is Lithuania itself can rely only on foreign financing and help to strengthen its defence. Thus, he informs that a number of Boxer IFVs are currently being delivered to Lithuania. Renamed “Vilkas”, or “wolf” in Lithuanian, the vehicles will be provided only to two battalions of the Iron Wolf mechanized infantry brigade, in Rukla and Alytus. It should be noted that Mechanized Infantry Brigade “Iron Wolf” is the core unit of the Lithuanian Army and forms the country’s contribution to NATO collective defence. But even this unit will not be provided with all necessary vehicles and equipment.

The brigade’s other two battalions, in Rukla and Panevezys, will continue to use old M113 armored personnel carriers, with plans to replace them with more advanced vehicles by 2030. No budget money – no vehicles!

Major General Valdemaras Rupsys admits that the only thing he can definitely do – to speak to the authorities. “We’ll definitely have to speak to the ministry about whether there are possibilities to replace their platform earlier than planned,” the general told in an interview. “Plans call for doing so in around 2030 but everything depends on financial resources. There won’t be any drastic decisions to replace the acquisitions that we are already planning now,” he added.

When he answers to the question if the Iron Wolf brigade needs tanks he is very flexible and says that “being aware of our means and financial capacity, I don’t dream about tanks right now. We don’t have such plans.

Another question is if he dreams about fighter jets in the Lithuanian army. And he again says – “No, I don’t today. I am a realist and don’t dream about things we cannot have.”

The worst thing is his full satisfaction with the existing situation. He will not even try to change things. In terms of conscription system he shifts the responsibility on the political leadership, on the whole, which should decide on that. And then what is his responsibility? Does Lithuania need such a chief of defence who decides nothing from the very beginning?

Obviously, Lithuania has no money, but according to Major General Valdemaras Rupsys Lithuania even lacks of ambitious either to be a strong country. Possibly, this aim could be reached at the expense of others. At least he is honest.

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Eastern Europe

Polonia: Poland’s diaspora policy

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In 2007, the Polish authorities for the first time adopted a government program to promote cooperation with the Polish diaspora (Polonia) and Poles abroad. In 2002, they introduced May 2 as Day of Polonia and Poles Abroad.

The strategic objectives of this program for 2015-2020 include support for the development of Polish language and culture among Poles abroad, strengthening Polish national identity among representatives of Polonia, contributing to the popularity of Polonian organizations abroad and the return of Poles living abroad to their homeland, establishing economic, scientific and cultural contacts between Poland and Polonia .

The Polish Foreign Ministry estimates the number of members of the Polish diaspora, including ethnic Poles and people of Polish descent, at 18-20 million, one third of them were born in Poland. Polonia and the Poles rank the sixth if we compare the proportion of members of the diaspora abroad with the population of the country of origin. 18% of tourists visiting Poland are members of Polish organizations abroad and ethnic Poles.

The largest Polish diasporas are in the USA (9.6 million according to 2012 reports), in Germany (1.5 million) and Canada (1 million). Poles are also living in France and the United Kingdom (0.8 million in each), the Netherlands (0.2 million), Ireland and Italy (0.15 million in each), the Czech Republic (0.12 million), Sweden and Norway ( 0.11 million in either), Belgium (0.1 million). In countries such as Austria, Spain, Denmark, and Iceland, members of the Polish diasporas number less than 100 thousand people.

According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, more than 1 million Poles and people of Polish descent live in post-Soviet countries. According to the ministry, these estimates are not accurate – for one,  in Belarus, the most “Polish” republic of the former USSR, the number of Poles and people of Polish origin could amount to up to 1 million (official reports estimate the number of Poles living in Belarus at 295 thousand).

Lithuania comes second by the number of Poles residing there – (250 thousand), the third is Ukraine (144 thousand), then Russia (47 thousand), Latvia (46 thousand) and Kazakhstan (34 thousand) – the fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Polonia is conditionally divided by the Polish Foreign Ministry into ten functionality-based geographical groups: 1. Lithuania 2. Belarus 3. Ukraine 4. Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic 5. Western European countries (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.). 6. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand 7. Other European countries 8. Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia 9. Brazil, Argentina 10.Other countries of the world.

This division was carried out on the functional, rather than numerical basis and there is no universal approach as to how to categorize Poles living abroad – each of the above mentioned countries sets its own requirements for working with Polonia. People who have Polish roots but do not speak Polish and who reside in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil are regarded as Polish diaspora by Warsaw. In this case, there is a need to popularize Polish informational and ideological products for Polonia in these countries in the language of the country of residence with emphasis on the economic and cultural components and projects for the study of the Polish language.

The latter bears particular importance. In Brazil, for one, there are more than a dozen Polish language courses. People who go there are provided with social benefits and all the necessary documents – student ID passes for students, work certificates for teaching staff (teachers get discounts 33% to 49% on public and rail transport in Poland, etc.), certificates of Polish schools for distance learning, etc.

Given the presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland’s policy, it is not surprising that Russia, the republics of the Caucasus, and countries of Central Asia are among those that Warsaw accuses of breaching the rights of ethnic minorities, including Poles, which is not true. Working with Polonia in these regions carries a clear ideological touch, as historical grievances prevail over culture and economy. By intentionally inciting conflict, concocting accusations of violating the rights of ethnic minorities,Warsaw equips itself with ideological tools to justify its aggressive Eastern policy towards Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

In particular, there are noticeable attempts by Warsaw to force Polish organizations in Russia to participate in anti-Russian propaganda campaigns, especially regarding retrospective assessments of Russian-Polish and Soviet-Polish relations. Polish diplomacy cites the unsuccessful Polish uprisings of the 18th-19th centuries, exiled and repressed Poles of the tsarist and Stalinist times, return of Poland’s western lands to Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus following the Red Army’s Polish campaign in 1939, etc.

The Polish Institute of National Memory (PINP), being an exclusively ideological structure, is on the list of state institutions and ministries that are responsible for cooperating with Polonia. A projecttitled “The Next Stop is History” has been launched in order to promote the historical and ideological heritage of Poland. Implemented within the framework of the Polish diaspora program of the Department of National Education of PINP in several countries at once (conferences, exhibitions, symposia, film screenings, lectures, military sports games), the project has no geographical restrictions and is conducted with the participation of certified teachers.

Let us focus on some characteristic features of the Polish diaspora policy:

– the prevalence of economic aspects while establishing cooperation with ethnic Poles living in the USA, EU and South America;

– a powerful propagandistic and political emphasis and a minimal presence of  economy while dealing with Polonia in countries of the former USSR;

– abandoning tactics of interaction with Polonia which presuppose acting through Polonian organizations only and which have proved ineffective;

– coverage by social, cultural and other projects of the largest possible number of ethnic Poles, in the first place, those who are not members of diaspora organizations;

– absence of heavy vertical hierarchy in disapora organizations in favor of horizontal links and shuttle diplomacy;

– contribute to the formation of a protest and opposition-minded stratum amongst the young in countries of the former USSR (Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine) with further placement of its representatives in local government structures, the media and other socially important projects. 

Summing up, we can say that Warsaw’s diaspora politics abroad are focused on strengthening its positions in the Western community and pursuing unilateral and controversial goals in the eastern direction. From our partner International Affairs

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