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Zimbabwe and Belarus Strengthen Business Ties

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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.

MD Africa Editor 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

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

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