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.
Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers
Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv. In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.
The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.
It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.
They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!
Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?
The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.
A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.
One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.
The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.
Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.
First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.
Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.
Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.
Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.
The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.
The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.
Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.
But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.
The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.
Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.
Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.
This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank
Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia
Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.
On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.
But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”
For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.
In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.
That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.
A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.
It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.
Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.
One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.
It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.
Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.
The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.
To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.
Author’s note: first published at cepa
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