Over the past few years, Russian authorities have been prioritizing media cooperation and the use of soft power to address the falling image of Russia among the political and business elites in Africa. The authorities have also made persistent efforts to inform the elites and business community about the positive developments and emerging economic opportunities in Russia, but Russian media and policy experts say there is still much room for improvement.
Quite recently, Olga Kulkova, a research fellow at the Center for Studies of Russian-African Relations, Institute for African Studies in Moscow, noted in her opinion article that “in the global struggle for Africa, Russia is sadly far from outpacing its competitors. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activeness, the country is seriously lagging behind China, US, EU, India, Brazil.”
For example, at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting, both China and Africa have fixed a “China-Africa Press Exchange Center” in China to encourage exchanges and visits between Chinese and African media, and China already supports frequent exchange of correspondents by media organizations of the two sides.
Professor David H. Shinn, an adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs George, Washington University, thinks that China Central Television, China Radio International, China Daily, and China’s official news service, Xinhua, have made a major media push into Africa. This effort coincides with China’s expanding economic and political engagement, including the fact that China is Africa’s largest trading partner at more than $200 billion annually,
Shinn, who was a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an emailed interview to Buziness Africa: “Neither Russia nor the government-controlled media of any other country has made a comparable media outreach effort in Africa. This situation speaks more, however, to the extraordinary effort China is putting into its African media campaign than it does Russia’s comparative lack of effort.”
Kulkova suggested that “Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent, on-the-spot TV reports in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. More quality information about modern Russia should be broadcast in African states. Indisputably, it would take a lot of money and efforts, but the result will pay off.”
The 21st century is the century of new technologies bringing international communication to a qualitatively different level, it is a time for new methods of “struggle for the hearts and minds” of African partners. Russia ought to take that into account if it wants to improve the chances for success in Africa. All the leading countries have been doing that quite efficiently for a long time, Kulkova noted.
While many experts say African media seem uninterested in developing links to Russia, Vasily Pushkov, an independent expert on international media relations argues that “it works both ways and moreso the two regions are very far from each other. They are not as interconnected as they were during the Cold War era. But, the interest in the media is relatively high right now.”
He explained that Russia might have an image problem among African elites, “partly due to the fact that Russia had to somewhat reduce its different development and investment programs in the African continent compared to the Soviet era. There is also a communication problem. Most African media get their global news from the leading Western media outlets, which in turn have a nasty and longstanding habit of always portraying Russia as the world’s bogeyman.”
Some problems and challenges in developing the media connection to Africa still remain. Pushkov said: “Africa is a huge continent. And it is only fair to remind oneself again and again that it is not a single entity. It has multitude of languages, cultures, nations, customs and regional or global interests. This is something that many people tend to forget when dealing with the continent.”
“But this diversity also means that you can not cover the whole continent by firmly establishing yourself in just one part of it. This calls for a very complicated and structured work that requires a lot of resources the amount of which has been significantly reduced by the global financial crisis,” Pushkov explained assertively.
He, however, points to positive trend in media cooperation. Last year for instance, Russian media made somewhat of a breakthrough in establishing partnership relations with African media companies.
The main progress was reached during the forum of the heads of the BRICS countries’ leading media outlets “Towards creating a common information space for the BRICS countries” which took place in October in Moscow. This resulted in a number of signed cooperation agreements between Russian and South African media companies. Furthermore, leading Russian media outlets have continued their work to expand coverage of events happening on the African continent.
China is leading among the BRICS. During the Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in December 2015 in Pretoria, both China and Africa aspire to reach new milestones in many spheres, one of which is to train hundreds of journalists, help them with skills development and skills transfer programs.
According to the official reports, this will provide an opportunity, by using the power of modern media, for advancing the common interest of the two regions in a mutually beneficial way.
For the past few years, Russia has made some efforts to return with investment and business to Africa, but unfortunately only a few of those development projects have been made public.
“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
“To certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interest of big companies. Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”
But, this trend may be changing. In a foreign policy speech, President Vladimir Putin urged all his Russian ambassadors and diplomats to actively use new technologies to highlight Russian success stories, improve Russia’s image and defend its interests abroad, according to Russian daily Kommersant, quoting an official who attended the meeting.
“It’s not enough to just crow something once… We should explain our positions again and again, using various platforms and new media technologies, until they understand,” the official, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, quoted Putin as saying.
According to experts, the level and intensity of cultural influence can be raised by the effective use of soft power, and of course, social media as pointed out by President Putin in his mid-July address to Russian diplomats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But the primary task is for diplomatic representations both in the Russian Federation and inside Africa to recognize these new methods of disseminating information, work with transparency and self-dedication, and keep up their legitimate responsibilities within the policy framework.
No one will deter Russia in the Baltic region
Recently researchers and analysts of the RAND Corporation issued the report “Exploring Requirements for Effective Deterrence of Interstate Aggression.”
The stated aim of this report is “to provide a fresh look at the subject in this context, with two primary purposes: to review established concepts about deterrence, and to provide a framework for evaluating the strength of deterrent relationships.” Chapter Four of the report is called “Deterring Russia in the Baltic Region” and presents analysis of security challenges in the Baltic States.
This particular report is interesting by the fact that it acknowledges the minimal likelihood of Russia’s military aggression in the Baltics. It is more than strange when take into account the previous report that insisted on high level probability of Russian aggression. This time experts consider the situation to be less dangerous for the Baltic Region.
According to the RAND Corporation analysts, Russia does not consider the Baltic States to be a strategically important region for itself.
Therefore, despite the Kremlin’s desire to change the balance of forces in Europe in its favor, Russia does not consider “aggressive actions in the Baltic States as a tool of achieving these goals.”
The US specialists have not found evidence of preparing the invasion of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, and Russia’s buildup of military power on their borders.
They have made a conclusion that a more aggressive behavior of Russia towards the Baltic countries can occur in case of the anti-missile defense systems deployment on their territory.
Instead, experts recommend that the US authorities treat Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with understanding and condescension and even take into account that their eternal anti-Russian fears are associated with difficult common historical past. In other words, they advise to rather provide moral support.
The report of the RAND Corporation cannot be treated only as a private opinion of a non-governmental organization. The findings of this center of expertise usually anticipate and justify strategic decisions made by the United States.
Thus, two years ago RAND Corporation held a war game, which revealed that the Russian armed forces need only about 60 hours to occupy the Baltic States, and NATO allies would not physically have time to help Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The analysis of the results of the war game was one of the rationales for deploying four multinational battalion-size battle groups on their territory.
Today, the RAND Corporation concludes that Russia does not threaten the Baltic States, and military tensions over this region can arise only if the missile defense systems are deployed. It follows logically that the further militarization of the Baltic States is explosive and undesirable.
So, the US elites as well as NATO do not want to deal with the Baltic States. They do not want to be distracted by countries that are of no importance for Russia, their main antagonist.
The first recommendation made by the analysts of the RAND Corporation in the report is “to assess the motives of potential aggressors and ease security concerns. In Europe, this could include avoiding deployment of the most provocative U.S. systems in or near Eastern Europe, thinning Russian and Baltic forces, and working on a successor to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.”
In the case of military provocation in the Baltic Sea, similar to the one that occurred in the Kerch Strait, NATO, the US or the EU will not even provide the Baltic States with active diplomatic assistance, not to mention immediate military support. The RAND Corporation made this more than clear for the Baltic States.
Russian Aluminium, Health Ministry Announce Ebola Vaccine
Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), one of the world’s largest aluminium producers, together with the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, announced the completion of the vaccination against the Ebola virus in the Republic of Guinea. Two thousand people have received the GamEvac-Combi vaccines during the testing programme conducted at the Scientific Diagnostic Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology (SDCEM) in Guinea.
The centre was an initiative of Russian business tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, and was built by RUSAL during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2015. GamEvac-Combi vaccine was created in the Gamalei Federal Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The vaccine is currently in the final round of testing.
“As part of the testing programme, the health of the vaccinated participants and the development of the immunity are monitored for one year. At the end of this period of monitoring, the vaccine will receive international certification making it available for use by the World Health Organisation and other organizations for the purpose of preventing the spread of the disease,” according to media release.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, instructed the development of the vaccine following a request from the President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Condé at the end of 2014.
In 2016, the vaccine was revealed during the World Health Assembly where the former WHO Director-General, Margaret Chen, was in attendance. The vaccine was registered in Russia at the end of 2015.
Along with developing the vaccine, RUSAL, as part of the public-private partnership supported by Oleg Deripaska, opened a research centre, an isolation ward and a hospital in Guinea. RUSAL’s commitment to fighting the epidemic was acknowledged by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, who thanked RUSAL’s shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, for his contribution to the international effort against Ebola.
The strong relationship that RUSAL has established with the Republic of Guinea is something that Oleg Deripaska often speaks about. He recently highlighted RUSAL’s commitment to helping the population of the country hit by the virus; “When the outbreak of the fever came, we made every effort to help”, said Oleg Deripaska.
“Currently the vaccine is administered to the Russian medics and other specialists going to the regions where there is a high risk of Ebola contagion”, said Veronika Skvortsova, the Minister of Health of the Russian Federation. “During the Ebola outbreak, the centre has shown the best results in terms of the number of Guinean persons wholly recovered: 62.5% of the SDCEM patients with a confirmed Ebola fever diagnosis have been successfully treated”.
The advantages of GamEvac-Combi vaccine
The vaccine was developed using a biotechnology method without using the pathogenic Ebola virus. The base of the vaccine is the genetic material of an adenovirus and vesicular canker virus, safe for humans, modified with a gene containing the information about the structure of the GP protein of the Ebola virus.
Pre-clinical and clinical studies have proven the safety of the vaccine and have shown that it stimulates the immune system more efficiently than foreign vaccines. Another important advantage of the vaccine is its more favourable transportation and storage conditions: GamEvac-Combi can be transported and stored at the temperature above -16◦C – and similar foreign vaccines require the temperature of less than – 60 ◦C for storage, which is difficult to implement in the hot African climate.
The SDCEM centre, that will continue to do medical examinations for the Guinean population, is the most advanced and biologically safe facility in the Western Africa. The centre was created in line with all international humanitarian organizations’ recommendations and is equipped with modern medical and laboratory equipment. RUSAL invested more than US$10 million in the construction of the SDCEM.
Currently, SDCEM is the leading centre in the field of investigating and preventing infectious diseases in Guinea. It also serves as the training facility for the national epidemiologists.
RUSAL has been active in Guinea since 2001 being one of the largest foreign investors in the country. In Guinea, RUSAL owns Kindia Bauxite Company (KBC) as well as the bauxite-alumina facility Friguia. RUSAL continues implementing projects to launch the world’s largest bauxite mines Dian-Dian in Boké region.
Putin, United Russia and the Message
On Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 18th United Russia party congress, reiterated the key challenges, problems and accomplishments for the nation. The congress delegates identified the challenges and priorities in the party’s work for the coming year.
Putin acknowledged the party’s support during his presidential election campaign, saying it was “a momentous thing shaping the top institution of power” in Russia. This concerns the president, the government, the region – any level, down to the local or municipal one.
Putin further referred to an action plan that was presented in a condensed form in the Executive Order in May 2018 and that set out in national projects drafted by the Government (the majority in the Government are United Russia members) and was supported by legislators (United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma). He pointed to the fact that there would not be any success without United Russia’s backing at the regional and municipal level.
“The United Russia party plays a special role. For a number of years the party has been showing its competence, its ability to make responsible decisions, explain these decisions to the people,” Putin told the party delegates during his address, while acknowledging frankly that there have been pitfalls and problems in the political leadership.
Leadership means making responsible decisions the country needs. This leadership is an enormous resource to achieve dynamic and substantive change that can ensure a radical improvement in the quality of life and greater well-being of the population.
Putin reminded the party meeting that the entire world going through a dramatic situation. In his words: “the world is undergoing a transformation, a very powerful and dynamically evolving transformation, and if we do not get our bearings, if we do not understand what we need to do and how, we may fall behind for good.”
He suggested that United Russia with its tremendous legislative, organisational and human resource potential must fully utilise it and consolidate all of society, in solving development issues, in implementing the nationwide agenda.
Putin told the party delegates never allow any sort of rudeness, arrogance, insolence towards people at any level – at the top level and the lowest, municipal level. This is important because it does the country a disservice, it is unfair to the people and it denigrates the party to the lowest of the low. The public demands fairness, honesty and openness.
What is “society” after all? It is the people. Thus, one key factor here is that people’s opinions and attitudes must necessarily be taken into account. There must be commitment to implementing people’s initiatives, and their initiatives must be used in attaining common goals, especially at the municipal level, according to the Russian leader.
The most crucial thing for a political party is a steady standing of its representatives and that United Russia does not have to fear change but rather work strategically towards making a change for the better.
Putin further asked the delegates to work relentlessly for a free democratic country, development of nationwide tasks, realisation of new ideas and approaches. Discussions and competition, including within the party itself are very efficient tools for solving problems in the interests of the nation. United Russia has to do everything needed to instil both inside the party in particular and in society in general this political culture, an atmosphere of dialogue, trust and cooperation with all political forces of Russia.
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