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Russia and Africa: More than economics

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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A lack of focus and lack of interest are hindering what could be a beneficial economic and political relationship between Russia and the African continent. Russia today does not have a concrete policy agenda for Africa, and offers much less to the continent now than it did during the Soviet era, at least according to Irina Filatova, professor emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and a professor at the National Research University at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

“Russia is interested in developing economic relations with Africa, but does not have much to offer,” Filatova said. “And what it does have to offer, it does not quite know how to. There are some good projects there on the continent.”

Although South Africa is now part of the BRICS grouping, this partnership is more about global political relations than connecting Russia with Africa.

“This is, as we know, an ideology aimed at changing the world economic (and political) order,” said Filatova, discussing BRICS. “Any other strategic partnership between Africa and Russia does not exist, and is impossible because of Russia’s negligible economic ties with the continent.”

BRICS does not fulfill the need for a “platform for Russia-Africa dialogue,” in the words of Lesley Masters, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa. “African engagement with Russia has been difficult, especially in building up economic ties. Relations need to be more visible and opened up to promote greater exchanges across sectors between Africa and Russia. There is not enough understanding in Africa regarding Russia,” Masters said.

More than economics

From Russia’s perspective, there are important geo-political implications for working with Africa. The continent’s 54 states represent a key voting bloc within the structures of global governance. Nevertheless, Russia’s soft power efforts in the region have been limited thus far.

Dr. Shaabani Nzori, an expert in Russian-African relations says that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign policy team are pragmatic and so African leaders interested in working with them should take a very business-like approach.

“Our (African) leaders must formulate exactly what they want and what to expect from Russia, what they are ready to offer in exchange and spell this out very clearly without any bonhomie,” said Nzori in an interview.

“With regard to African mineral resources and Russia’s intended role in their exploration and exploitation, we need to be principled and not let Russians determine the agenda on how these our resources ought to be exploited and managed,” he said.

So far, Nzori continued, African authorities have failed to use mineral assets as trump cards to negotiate better terms when going into contracts with foreigners not only in exploiting and managing the minerals deposits themselves, but also in using them to achieve inroads into other spheres of economic, technical and technological cooperation, for example, obtaining access to Russia’s technology and prowess in nuclear power generation or asset-swapping for ownership stakes in Russian enterprises.

Dr. Bashir Obasekola, from the Russian chapter of the Nigerians In Diaspora Organization Europe (NIDOE-Russia), a non-profit social organization based in Moscow, said that many people still expect to see a very robust Russian policy implemented in Africa, despite the fact that China has outpaced Russia significantly in Africa engagement in recent years.

Medvedev’s legacy

“Some attempts were made by Medvedev to change the trend,” Obasekola said. “He even appointed a special envoy on African affairs, Mikhail Margelov, to bring in new ideas to Russian-African relations, on his part he organized business forum in Addis Ababa, visited southern and eastern African countries drumming about Russian investment with little results. Nevertheless, the potentials of Russian-African relations are still yet to be maximized.”

In June 2009, Medvedev paid an official visit to Nigeria, during which six bilateral agreements were signed aimed at boosting the strategic partnership between the two countries.

When Medvedev returned from his African trip, Russia’s then-president declared that such a visit should have been made sooner, but that it was not too late for Russia to play a role on the continent. Summing up his trip, he noted frankly that Russia was “almost too late” in engaging with Africa. “Work with our African partners should have been started earlier and that Africa is waiting for our support,” he said at that time.

“Our policies here will be very friendly, but at the same time pragmatic,” Medvedev said, noting that the Soviet Union “always held a very friendly position with regard to African countries, helping them win independence.” But despite such ties – particularly with countries such as Namibia and Angola – Moscow’s influence has waned since the fall of the Soviet Union, as countries turned to the United States and Asian states such as China and India. The interest of major international players in Africa is actively discussed on the continent and during his visit, Medvedev declared: “We should be also involved.”

Ana Cristina Alves, a senior researcher from Global Powers and Africa at the South African Institute of International Affairs and lecturer from the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, thinks that there is a lot of potential for trade and economic cooperation to improve in the medium-long term, but doesn’t think Africa is a priority for Moscow right now.

“The impression I have is that Russia’s engagement in Africa is being mostly conducted by private Russian interests to explore mineral resources without any support from their Russian government,” Alves said. “People talk about China, India and Brazil in Africa – Russia hardly make it into the academic discussions here.”

From the Russian perspective, the challenges of doing business in Africa may outweigh the potential benefits. Andrei Petrov, founder of New African Initiative (NAI), a non-profit organization that seeks to change negative perceptions about Russia and help Russian investors in Africa, said that the major problem Russian companies face in their investments abroad is the absence of a system for obtaining financing from the government and commercial institutions.

Next to that is related to political risks of investing in North Africa. Due to political events in Libya for instance, Russian Railways lost many projects, including the construction of the Bengazi-Sirt railway at the total cost of $2.7 billion. Petrov added that it’s very difficult to compete with China, which is very dynamic and active on the continent and has low cost financing in sufficient amounts for nearly all investment projects planned for Africa.

Establishing high-level dialogues

In his assessment, Rex Essenowo, an independent economic analyst based in Moscow, said that Medvedev was more focused on Russia-African economic policies during his four years in office compared with Vladimir Putin’s previous eight, and businessmen and political leaders on both sides are now waiting to see if Putin will continue Medevedev’s engagement or not. Putin visited only South Africa and Morocco during his eight years as president from 2000 to 2008.

Essenowo said that the emergence of BRICS regional bloc presents a good platform to renew trade and economic relations with Africa, but added a caveat. “Let me quickly point out that South Africa is still far away from being the flag bearer in determining African economic policies and integration with Russia, if you take into consideration the potentials that Africa and Russia has,” Essenowo said. “We are not lacking the resources to boost the relationship, but the will power has always been put on hold or totally ignored.”

Essenowo pointed out that there are many meetings at the bilateral and regional levels between Russia and the U.S., EU and Southeast Asian nations, but there has yet to be a single high-level Russia-African summit. Essenowo believes that there is still a chance to revive Russia’s relationship with Africa if African nations also resolve to work together to focus on improving the Russian-African relationship.

Official statistics on trade and investment are hard to find. Internet search simply found out that Russia’s trade turnover with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa for the period from January to December 2015 was only estimated at US$ 3.3 billion.

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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No one will deter Russia in the Baltic region

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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.

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Russian Aluminium, Health Ministry Announce Ebola Vaccine

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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.

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Putin, United Russia and the Message

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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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