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Trump and Putin to meet in Germany

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US President Donald Trump is set to meet with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin at next week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany amid investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the country’s officials.

Both the Kremlin and the White House announced that the pair will meet on the sidelines of the July 7-8 summit of G20 nations in Hamburg. However, the US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that no agenda had yet been set for the meeting, which is fraught with difficulties for Trump.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters that Putin and Donald Trump will meet on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit in Hamburg next week, but no separate meeting is planned, “They will meet in any case there, on the sidelines of this summit, but no separate meeting is planned at the moment,” Peskov said.  Peskov said that as far as a possible meeting was concerned, “the protocol side of it is secondary.” He let on little about Moscow’s awareness of Washington’s ambivalence toward the scale of the meeting but said that “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”

President Trump has frequently called for better ties with Russia but lawmakers in his own Republican Party are urging him to be wary of Moscow.  “As the president has made clear, he’d like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia but he has also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior,” McMaster said, obviously pointing to Ukraine and Syria.

The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.

Due to ongoing allegations by the US intelligence community of Russian interference in the US election and a scandal about possible collusion within Trump’s team, not everyone in the White House thinks such a meeting is prudent. State Department and National Security Council officials have asked Trump to consider a more low-profile introduction to the Russian president and perhaps avoid an extended conversation altogether. Among the recommendations are a brief and informal “pull-aside” on the summit’s sidelines, and a meeting of US and Russian delegations for “strategic stability talks”—a format which may or may not involve heads of state.

The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.

Some US officials argue the meeting should be a brief and informal “pull-aside” at the two-day summit, which starts next Friday in Hamburg, in view of the fact that Trump is under multi-pronged investigations into his campaign’s relationship with Moscow. The skeptics also argue there has been no let-up in Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which was the trigger for the bulk of the sanctions.

Excitement

President Donald Trump is said to be excited to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin, though US government officials are trying to curb Trump’s enthusiasm about meeting Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Germany.

Trump has not met his “favorite” Russian strongman Putin since being elected last year, despite his claim that he could meet the Russian leader even before being inaugurated. Now he is apparently keen to hold a full bilateral meeting at the time of the summit on July 7-8, two White House officials, one current and one former, told AP. Such a meeting would involve agreeing on a designated space for it, allowing media access and other diplomatic protocols involved in meetings between two heads of state. However, there is no official confirmation on Moscow’s or Washington’s side that a meeting in any form has been agreed upon, but Putin and Trump will both attend the summit.

Trump has been positive about his policy for Russia. Like Obama, Trump has said he would stabilize and reinvigorate the bilateral ties with the Kremlin. When he took the job under Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backed moves to improve relations with Moscow and arranged for Lavrov to meet Trump in the Oval Office. But the former oil executive felt “burned” by that incident, of which the Russian government published photographs without the US government’s permission, and where Trump disclosed classified information about counter-terrorist operations. Tillerson has since become more adamant in his opposition to the relaxation of sanctions without substantial changes to Russian behavior.

Tensions

US-Russia relations have been dotted with tensions since the days of the so-called Cold War- in fact even before that.  Existence of NATO as a global terror police force to attack any weak nation has been resented by Moscow which ass Washington o do away with the Cold War symbols. 

Russia and the USA are at odds over many issues, namely on Ukraine, NATO expansion and the civil war in Syria where Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad. The USA backs rebel groups trying to overthrow Assad, and Washington angered Russia by launching missile strikes against a Syrian government air base in April in response to what the USA says was a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians.

President Putin, who has served as both Russian president and prime minister, has outlasted the previous two US presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Officials from those governments say American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with the Russian leader. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow, they say. Those relations reached a post-Cold War low under Trump’s predecessor, Obama. In the last days of his presidency, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking US political groups in the 2016 election.

US officals and intelligence say Russia interfered with US presidency poll, engineering a vote in favor of Trump. Russia denies all US allegations and Trump says his team did not collude with Moscow. Several congressional committees as well as the FBI are investigating Russia’s role in the election and any alleged collusion by Trump’s campaign.  Further, allegations that Russia interfered in the US presidential election last year and colluded with the Republican’s campaign have overshadowed the businessman’s unexpected victory and dogged his first five months in office. Russia has vociferously denied involved in the US election and a visibly irate Putin accused US journalists of “hysteria” on the subject earlier this month.

In November 2013, Trump said on MSNBC that he did have “a relationship” with Putin, whom he claimed sent him “a present” when he attended the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, that he “got to know Putin very well” when they both appeared — in separate segments — on an episode of “60 Minutes” and that they had communicated “directly and indirectly.”  Trump later walked back the idea of a relationship with Putin in a 2016 interview with ABC News’: “I have no relationship to — with him,” said Trump, later continuing, “He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together. By the way, not together-together, meaning he was probably shot in Moscow… and I was shot in New York.” “I have never spoken to him on the phone,” added Trump. The president raised eyebrows for heaping praise on Putin during the campaign, but denied having a “relationship” with the Russian leader.

Since Trump’s inauguration, he and Putin have shared three phone calls. There have never been any real a rapport between the two.

Sanctions as economic terrorism

Russia continues to face sanctions from USA and its western allies. USA keeps extending the sanctions just hoping to weaken Russian economy. However, Russian economy is strong and is able to withstand all impacts of western sanctions.

A proposed new package of sanctions on Russia in the US Congress might complicate Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow. The US Senate reached an agreement to resolve a technical issue stalling the sanctions, although the measure’s fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Estonia, Georgia and Montenegro in July and August in an attempt to reassure US allies that are neighbors of Russia

Apparently, Trump made significant efforts to lift sanctions on Russia in his first weeks in office but was thwarted by resistance from allies as well as from former Obama officials and state department staffers.

When Theresa May visited the White House a week after Trump’s inauguration, one of her priorities was to dissuade the new president from relaxing sanctions imposed on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in eastern Ukraine. “The Brits did push for that, but it’s hard to say how much difference their intervention made,” said a former official, who was working at the state department at the time.  Two outgoing state officials, Daniel Fried and Tom Malinowski, lobbied Congress to pass legislation to codify the sanctions and lock them in place.

On 14 June the US Senate passed a bill, with a 98-2 vote, that would strengthen sanctions on Russia. The bill has since been stalled in the House over technicalities amid reports that Trump’s allies are seeking to water it down. “If the bill is passed it would mean that in one important respect, Russian active measures will have failed,” Malinowski, Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, said. He also pointed to the Treasury’s move last week to broaden existing restrictions on Russia as an indication “the sanctions machinery is working normally and on schedule”

The US defense department for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said the closure of the Russian compounds and the expulsion of suspected spies were intended to be only the first step in the punitive measures against Moscow for its election meddling. If President Trump starts to undo any of those measures, including giving back the facilities in Maryland and New York then the Russian government will believe … they got away with what they did to US strategists.

One possible gesture under consideration is the restoration of access to two diplomatic compounds, in Maryland and New York, from which Russian officials were ejected by the Obama government in December as part of a package of punitive measures for Russian hacking of the 2016 elections. Obama said the compounds were “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes”. He also expelled 35 Russian officials he described as “intelligence operatives”.

The Trump government was contemplating handing back the compounds in early May, initially in exchange for the Russian government lifting a freeze on construction of a new US consulate in St Petersburg, according to the Washington Post. That link was reportedly dropped a few days later when the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Washington on 10 May.

So far, however, no agreements have been reached on the fate of the compounds, which Russian diplomats have made a priority in their discussions with the government. The NSC spokesman, Michael Anton, said the meeting between the two leaders “is not set in any format yet”, but he did not respond to a question about the request to NSC staff to propose potential bargaining chips for the meeting. “They have been asked for deliverables, but there is resistance to offering anything up without anything back in return,” said one former official familiar with the debate inside the White House.

Syria

Syria is now the battle field for the former Cold war foes to showcase their individual military capability.

It is no secret that USA and Russia have been fighting to control the world but the former has maintained upper hand.  In doing so, Moscow pursues a confrontational collaborative approach with USA in regional crises. In recent times, Syria vividly showcases this essentially cooperative policy of Russia and both seem to advance their global and regional interests. 

President Donald Trump’s openness to Putin has been the foreign policy thing that most separated him from the rest of Republicans. But Russia and the USA are on opposite sides of so many issues that the White House would certainly have to come to terms with it. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has

It’s a relationship both Putin and Trump found valuable during the presidential campaign, when both wanted to see Clinton defeated.

It was seeing pictures of Syrian children devastated by what officials suspect is sarin gas that led Trump, as President, to do an unabashed about-face on Syria. He had opposed military action there when chemical weapons were used during the Obama administration and criticized former President Barack Obama for making that a “red line.” Just before the air strikes, Trump said the pictures he saw crossed much more than a red line for him. “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.”

Putin was quick to condemn Trump’s missile strike response, calling it “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.”

The USA and Russia are squaring off on the issue in the UN Security Council, where Russia, which has veto power, has stood in the way of international action against Syria.

Syria dispute is virtually guaranteed to break up the Trump-Putin bromance. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has been a feature event; US political drama for months has been about Russian meddling in US elections and the blowback from Trump. The ties between Trump staffers to Russia, was aided by Trump’s willingness to start fresh with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he defended in the US media.

On April 17 Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s relationship with the US has badly deteriorated since Donald Trump became president. The Russian leader – who had a frosty relationship with Obama – said the relationship has “degraded” When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”  When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”

Putin claimed Damascus had given up its chemical weapons stocks and offered two main explanations for the horrific incident. One was that Syrian government air strikes had hit rebel chemical weapons stocks, releasing poisonous gas, or that the incident was a set-up designed to discredit the Syrian government.

 Putin sensationally claimed the US is preparing airstrikes on the Syrian capital – and will pin the blame on Bashar-al Assad’s forces. The Russian leader made the astonishing claim – that the US is planning to FAKE chemicals weapons attacks – during a joint press conference with the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Putin insisted Russia would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften. His claims Russia has information strikes are being planned by the USA on the southern Damascus region – the aim of which is to blame the resulting devastation on the subsequently discredited Syrian government – will not go down well in the White House. When asked whether he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Putin said: “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared… in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

Trump raised Russian hackles when the White House said it appeared the Syrian military was preparing to conduct a chemical weapons attack and warned that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so. Meanwhile, the White House warned Syrian President Bashar al Assad that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted a chemical weapons attack and said the USA had reason to believe such preparations were underway. The Syrian government said a US warning to Damascus not to carry out a new chemical weapons strike were baseless and a ploy to justify a new attack on the country.   State television quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Washington’s allegations about an intended attack were not only misleading but also “devoid of any truth and not based on any facts.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia said will respond with dignity and proportionately if the USA takes pre-emptive measures against Syrian government forces to stop what Washington says could be a planned chemical attack. Lavrov added that it would “probably not be right” if Putin and Trump did not talk at the G20 summit of world economic powers. Speaking at a news conference with his German counterpart, Lavrov said he hoped that the USA was not preparing to use its intelligence assessments about the Syrian government’s intentions as a pretext to mount a “provocation” in Syria.

The Russian foreign ministry said “retaliatory measures” were being prepared for closure of the compounds, but did not describe the measures. The Russian Kommersant newspaper has reported that the Kremlin could seize US diplomatic property in Russia or impose restrictions on an Anglo-American school there.

Observation

It is becoming clear now that the US President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at the G20 summit in Germany that brings two world leaders whose political fortunes have become intertwined face-to-face for the first time.

As the G20 summit in Germany is fast approaching, President Trump is reportedly pressing for a meeting with President Putin. But the President’s advisers are not big into the idea of a highly publicized meeting between the two leaders. Some are suggesting instead a pull-aside” meeting on the sidelines of the summit to avoid a high-profile meeting, involving press and other diplomatic formalities.

Donald Trump has told White House aides to come up with possible concessions to offer as bargaining chips in his planned meeting next week with Vladimir Putin, according to two former officials familiar with the preparations. National Security Council staff has been tasked with proposing “deliverables” for the first Trump-Putin encounter, including the return of two diplomatic compounds Russians were ordered to vacate by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, the former officials said. It is not clear what Putin would be asked to give in return.

The Kremlin said that Russia was ready to attend a full-scale meeting — the first since Trump has taken office — in addition to any interactions the pair would have at the summit. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between the USA and Russia over the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and with Trump casting new scrutiny on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not doing enough to counter Russian election meddling.

The US intelligence, according to Moscow, wants to maintain a rift in the relationship between Trump and Putin. US intelligence agencies say Russia hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party political groups to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

With US Congress and most of his government set against concessions to Russia, Trump has been hemmed in so far in his overtures to Moscow. His encounter with Putin next week, however, will offer him the opportunity to remake policy on the spot. “The big wild card in all this is the person holding the position of president of the United States,” Malinowski said. “We don’t know what he will say when he meets the master-manipulator from the Kremlin.” Asked about a Trump-Putin meeting in Hamburg, Lavrov told journalists: “We assume that contact will take place, as the two presidents will at the same time be in one town, in one building, in one room.”

There is strong resistance in the state department to one-sided concessions aimed simply at improving the tone of US-Russian relations. There is also opposition within the government to Trump’s preference for a formal bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Germany.

All eyes are now on the two top world leaders in neat suits looking for any possible breakthroughs in bilateral ties between the two superpowers that would in turn help reduce global and regional tensions. 

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Leaders of Russia: A Hidden Russian Program that should not be hidden

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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My experience and commitment to the study of Russia and the Post-Soviet space extends far beyond more than half of my life. It encapsulates my entire adult working life, with more than eight years living, studying, and researching throughout the area and it is the product of more than 100 publications. I have also prided myself on not following conventional wisdom about Russia or falling victim to the propaganda that has always flowed freely from both sides, American and Russian. I am comfortable criticizing Russia as much as I am motivated to objectively observe and analyze its progressive development in various dimensions and degrees. Most of all, I have never allowed some empty instinctive American reflex-patriotism to blind me from the ability to dispassionately and accurately review a situation as it truly is. Unfortunately, this analytical capacity has become quite endangered when it comes to American scholars and so-called Russian experts. This matters because it is now difficult to find American analyses of Russia that does not run their ultimate conclusions through this lens of subjective patriotism.

Which is a true shame when it comes to Western recognition of a unique program like “Leaders of Russia,” for it is inarguably a symbol of successful impartiality and progressive advancement in Russia. Without doubt, it is the first of its kind in Russia: a positive and pro-active example to give access to the people across every single region of Russia and potentially earn a well-deserved recognition and push into the future leadership cadres of the country. Most importantly, this push is entirely transparent in its judging and completely open to all people. To be completely honest, when one looks at all of the political, social, and economic problems that have been afflicting the contemporary American scene, where leaders seem to be constantly recycled and no innovation or new blood seems ready to emerge on the scene, then it becomes quite apparent how desperately America could use just such a competition.

Politicians across America and Western Europe have long prided themselves on how open their societies and political systems are. The “American Dream,” where anyone has the chance to make something of themselves, no matter where they come from and no matter how dire their beginnings, has long been part of Western mythology. But despite this concept of being able to justly pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, there is overwhelming data today that shows how for many people that reality simply doesn’t exist: rising up and achieving the summit of success, no matter how ambitious and talented, can sometimes seem almost impossible. This reality has led to such a serious pessimism that some even discuss a genuine societal depression damaging America today, especially among its young people.

Perhaps worse than the supposed problem of elitism in America, an opposite phenomenon called “Post-Truth” now runs rampant across Western society. Post-truth politics is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth has become so pervasive that many fear that at least when it concerns American politics that we are witnessing the death of intellectualism and the end of respect for profundity. What all of this means is that whether we were talking about the original scourge of elitism and the new dilemma of post-truth, the end result is possibly the same: politics in the West is no more ‘open’ as anywhere else and in fact may be just as much of a ‘closed club’ as any authoritarian non-Western regime. One only need look at the newest scandal raging across America, where elites in business and in Hollywood openly bribed university officials across some of the country’s most elite institutions, trying to basically buy a place for their children to study, whether they were worthy of it or not. In other words, we are facing the existence of a system of advancement, of new leadership grooming, that is completely not based on effort, ambition, and talent. The best are not getting rewarded, only the connected. Against this dark backdrop, programs like Leaders of Russia de facto end up serving as a light against such world tendencies.

Thus perhaps it should be seen as rather ironic that Russia, the country that so many Westerners eagerly criticize for an authoritarian (or at least semi-authoritarian) political regime, for the ‘closed’ nature of its societal-political system overall, for its hostility toward grassroots development, is in actuality the one to develop, foster, and build an unprecedented program of leadership development. A program completely devoid of the above Western criticisms. In the short time of its existence, Leaders of Russia as a program has literally selected citizens from every individual region of Russia, regardless of ethnic makeup or geographical proximity to the capitol. Previous participants/winners of the program (there are 100 officially recognized every year) have gone on to incredible levels of success: Deputy Ministers in the Russian government; Governors of various regions of the Russian Federation; heads of major international businesses and many different societal organizations supporting the improved functioning of Russia overall.

 Most importantly of all, to date there has not been a single sniff of impropriety or corruption plaguing the program. What matters in Leaders of Russia is not who knows whom but rather who is the most worthy, with each winner selected via an open, data-verified mechanism. The spirit of the program also matters: it is not just a stepping-stone for personal enrichment and individual acclaim. Each winner is expected to pursue a life of service dedicated to the elevation and improvement of the lives of all Russian citizens. The concept of giving back to your country, to the people, is at the heart of the Leaders of Russia program, rather than just being an exercise in egoism and noveau riche elitism. The idea of combining a governmentally-sponsored program, fully-funded and guaranteed, with an ethic of giving and selfless leadership is exactly what is lacking in today’s self-obsessed world, especially in the countries famous for supposedly being more developed, more open, and more ‘democratic.’

Finally, after all of the above is considered, some remaining questions are left begging to be asked. If such programs are typically considered a sign of successful and dynamic societal-political development, of fully-functioning societal participation in the work of the state, in its future, then why is Russia never given any credit for being the founder and supporter of just such a program? This is not to say Russia is blameless and faultless. It is not to say Russia can do no wrong. But that is quite different from trying to make people understand that it is unfair to portray Russia as a country that can do no right. Why would such a laudable program like Leaders of Russia, that deserves global recognition and at least a piece of the international spotlight, instead remains basically anonymous outside of Russia? Why would a program that could show the positive evolution and future beneficial prospects of Russia remain in the international shadows? To whom is such hiding advantageous and to what end is this shadowing? Figuring these questions out might not just elevate the global prestige of Leaders of Russia. It might actually create an opportunity for better relations between Russia and the West. And if that becomes the case, then Leaders of Russia will have proven itself to be one of the most important programs in the world. 

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Russia’s Policy, Africa and the Female Drivers

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Gambia's Ambassador Jainaba Bah and Ghana's Ambassador Lesley Akyaa Opoku Ware

International Women’s Day, observed worldwide on March 8, is primarily to recognize and highlight women’s role, achievements and challenges in society. A number of Russian women have been on the frontline, driving some significant aspects of Russia’s foreign policy with Africa.

These efforts, stretching from academic research through consultation of business and investment to culture directions have helped shape the current diplomatic relationship with the region, and have had considerable positive impact from East to West, from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

In an exclusive interview, Professor Irina Abramova, Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke highly how Russia has steadily raised its profile from abnormally low level after Soviet collapse in 1991.

Abramova was appointed as the first female director in 2016. Under her directorship and guidance, the Institute for African Studies (IAS) has provided the necessary research in many spheres that formed the basis for formulating strategic policy implemented in Africa.

This role also includes forging cooperation with Africa in the international arena that means establishing closeness of positions on the formation of a new international order, the possibility of consolidating Russia’s position as an influential center of world politics.

“There is currently a different Africa – Africa with rapid economic growth and profitable spheres of investment operations. As a result, building mutually beneficial cooperation remains one of the main priorities of Russia. An important area of work in this regard is the improvement of the legal framework of our relations with the African states,” she told me during the interview discussion.

With regard to challenges, Abramova noted that Africans have been poorly informed about the possibilities of Russian partnership. “It is necessary to establish an effective exchange of information on the investment potential of the business and on how to focus efforts on expanding partnerships with Africa.”

The media should more actively inform Russians about the prospects for the development of the African continent, its history and culture. For majority of Africans, Russia is associated with the Soviet Union, although they still have very warm feelings towards Russia.

In general, the Russian Federation in Africa and Africa in the Russian Federation are very poorly presented in the media.

In her views, Russian technology can be successfully promoted in Africa. It’s not just about industries but also exploration, transportation, infrastructure, energy and the construction of nuclear power plants.

For her role as a female director, who is partly involved in pushing for an admirable relationship between Russia and Africa, amounts to the role of a mother or curator, the essence of recognizing women and March 8.

Men have historically view women with high skepticism, often interpreting their roles synonymously with childcare at home. But women are now at the frontline fighting for equality – equal roles with men and social status.

According to Nataliya Zaiser, Head of Africa Business Initiative (ABI) – a business lobbying NGO, March 8 solidifies women’s energy and brings them closer to work with their men counterparts in unison, create a better society.

Since March 2016, Zaiser has been the Head of Africa Business Initiative (ABI), created with the support of Russian businesses as a platform for the humanitarian, economic and legal expertise, and it also aimed at strengthening relations between Russia and Africa. The main goal of this organization – to unite the efforts in promoting and supporting the interests of Russian businesses within the framework of broader international cooperation on the territory of the African continent.

“Times have changed significantly. There is a new economic and political environment providing different opportunities for women to take up roles in developing relations between Russia and Africa. What remains the same is a will, a very loyal mutual attitude between Russia and African countries and strong desire to push forward these mutual efforts,” she told me during an interview.

On Russia and Africa relationship, she noted that Russia has developed a number of business councils for cooperation both with individual African countries as well as with its own regions and with its neighbors.

For Africa in particular, the Africa Business Initiative (ABI) offers the chance of a consolidated approach, and as an independent organization, it can work with the business community in Russia and at the same time combine the interests of the state, the diplomatic community, the academic institutions and the African business diaspora.

“In my view, Russia is open. Africa has much to offer Russia, which is a large country and has excellent prospects in the regions, many of which are developing very rapidly and are ready to accept new partnerships, and discuss forms of cooperation,” Nataliya Zaiser said while stressing her previous efforts and huge-accumulated experience working in this direction as a female policy decision-maker.

Russian women in the regions are also on the frontline. Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), questioned whether Russia has a broader Africa policy or long-term strategy in there. “Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa,” she underlined.

While meetings organised between Russia and Africa have to discuss thoroughly how to trade, efforts should be made to remove or lessen some of the barriers for mutual benefits. Now Russia’s main goal is to decide what it can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market.

Acknowledging the huge untapped economic potentials in the relations between Russia and Africa, Ekaterina Dyachenko founded the B2B Export Group of Companies.

Kenya-based Dyachenko has more than 10 years of tremendous experience working and facilitating Russian business issues in Africa. After the previous Russia-African Forums (RAF) that were successfully organized in South Africa and East Africa, the B2B Group of Companies has received positive responses from African business community indicating enormous interest in goods and services Russian companies can offer and export to Africa.

Her dream was to make the Russian-African Forum (RAF) as one of the effective platforms for building an efficient business-to-business dialogue between Russia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dyachenko last held her RAF in July as part of the INNOPROM-2016 international industrial trade fair in Yekaterinburg (Urals), that business gathering has attempted to outline diversified ways for strengthening economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.

According to the organizing committee, the Yekaterinburg forum attracted delegations from different countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In addition to above efforts by women, Lyubov Demidova, Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Moscow Region, has created the Regional Council for the Development of Relations with African countries (abbreviated RCDRAC) which serves as a good platform for the development of fruitful cooperation in various fields between Russia and Africa.

The primary task of RCDRAC is to make the cooperation as comfortable, convenient and safe for both parties. It all depends not only on Russia but also on African States, and for its part, the RCDRAC has been making efforts to establish large-scale, long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation, and there would be some positive results on the part of African States.

In some areas would cooperate fast enough, and in some other areas require years of hard work to get effective and positive results, according to Demidova.

There are key challenges and problems facing Russian companies and investors that wanted business in Africa. The obstacle is insufficient knowledge of the economic potential on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, the needs and business opportunities in the African region. The RCDRAC plans to help members of the business community of all countries to address issues for effective and mutual economic cooperation.

She reassured thus: “I think African companies in Russia face the same problems similar to that of the Russian companies face in Africa. On the question of activities, we hope that our future advice will help to build business confidence for the African entrepreneurs and potential exporters to the Russian market.”

In the Russian Federation, there are female African Ambassadors from Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Burundi, Rwanda and South Africa. As top female diplomats, their presence vividly exemplifies women role in such high-level positions, and a reminder of equal rights for women as we celebrate March 8th, International Women’s Day. In conclusion, International Women’s Day has a clear simple message: the global struggle to make sure that women are consistently offered the opportunity to play significant roles in the society.

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Putin’s African Dream and the New Dawn

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In a February decree posted to the official portal of legal information, Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed his aide Yuri Ushakov to chair the organizing committee paving the way for the first Russia-Africa summit that Moscow plans to host in Sochi. The Russian government is to ensure financing of the expenditures related to hosting the summit and the decree has further assigned Roscongress, a major organizer of international conventions, exhibitions and public events, the task performer.

The idea to hold a Russia-Africa forum was initiated by President Putin at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in July 2018. This first Russia-Africa summit will definitely enhance mutual multifaceted ties, reshape diplomatic relationship and significantly to roll-out ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa.

Policy experts have suggested, however, that Kremlin has to substantiate its future African policy agenda with consistency, activeness and support, and enhance its participation in the economic development of Africa.

“Indeed, through the summit, Russia has to discover specific expectations, new directions and how to deal with Africa. The games there have completely changed, many global players have also adopted investment strategies more appealing and acceptable for Africans,” Dr. Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, told me by email from South Africa.

To that end, he suggested that “the Russia-Africa summit has to focus discussions on new development-oriented thinking and how to transfer Russian technology to industry and agriculture more collaboratively, and a lot more cooperation on employment creation across sectors. That’s the best way to sustain peace and eradicate conflicts in Africa.”

South African business tycoon, Sello Rasethaba, questioned how Russia was going to establish a thriving trade relationship with Africa for the benefit all and sundry. In reality and effective practical terms, how Russia wants to reposition itself in relation with Africa. With business relationship, Russia has to consider practical strategies in consultation with African countries. The fact that the middle class is growing in leaps and bounds in Africa makes this market even more attractive and opens more opportunities also for Russian businesses.

“The current investment and business engagement by foreign players with Africa is on the increase. There are so many unknowns up there in Russia, it’s crucial that Russia has a clear vision of the relationship it wants with Africa. Russia together with African countries must setup sovereign wealth funds using the resources power of those countries,” he said.

There are similar views and sentiments. Rex Essenowo, Member of the Board of Trustees of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe and Senior Executive of Asian Africa Trade, a Moscow based business lobbying NGO, said it was unfortunate that some people consistently undermine Africa’s strategic interest, that is infrastructural development and lifting its vast population out of poverty in Africa. Playing the conflict card is strategically destructive because the warring parties want to present Africa as unsafe for investments.

“It is for African leaders to remain focused on the right direction, resolute in conflict management and as well rolling out new implementable policies oriented towards building infrastructure, modernizing agriculture, investment in manufacturing and industry – these will offer employment for the youth. Meanwhile, we are not even using one tenth of our capacities on investment promotion at the international platforms,” he added.

Essenowo further argued that the future of Russia-Africa relations has to take into cognizance the true meaning of building a platform for civil, media and cultural as well as people-to-people interaction, helping to change the attitudes and mentality, remove old stereotypes, – these are important steps for improving business cooperation.

In addition, Russia could help to deepen understanding through regular dialogue with the civil society and governments, as basis for economic growth, development, as well as motivation for confidence among Russian investors in the region.

Despite its global status, Russia lacks assertiveness towards practical implementation of essential development projects in Africa. Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango, told me in an interview discussions that, “For a long time, Russia’s foreign policy on Africa has failed to pronounce itself in practical terms as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. The Russian Federation has the capacity and ability to assist Africa overcome these challenges leveraging on Africa’s vast resources.”

Mike Sango further expressed his views as follows: “Africa’s expectation is that Russia, while largely in the extractive industry, will steadily transfer technologies for local processing of raw materials as a catalyst for Africa’s development.”

Many former Ambassadors, mostly from Southern African region, have also tasked African leaders to prioritize concrete development projects and reminded them that it was necessary to make rational choices, push for “African solutions to African problems” within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when they finally gather at the forthcoming October summit in Sochi.

The summit sessions have to discuss thoroughly “the whole range of development issues that will ultimately form the future African agenda” and analyze them through the prism of rivalry and competition among foreign players on the continent, according to a summarized separate media interviews with the former African envoys who served in the Russian Federation.

In addition, they unreservedly underscored Russia’s commitment to strengthening political contacts, but these have not reflected on the level of economic engagement as compared to its globally praised status. Now, looking objectively at the situation as it develops on the continent, Africa finds itself in an excellent compelling position of having many suitors – each offering something it needs for its development, they acknowledged.

The 15-member UN’s Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming the AU’s initiative and pledging support for “African solutions to African problems” to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Former Envoys observed in their interview discussions with me that many African countries have failed to substantially reduce abject poverty, rising unemployment, marginalization of social groups and widening inequality (the primary root causes of conflicts) in many regions of Africa.

Admittedly and in their objective assessment, Africa’s economy has remained largely based on subsistence agriculture with little development of the industrial or services sectors. The huge infrastructure deficit could be business for Russian investors. These development issues, among others, are what Russia-Africa platform has to genuinely deal with African leaders in Sochi.

Quite recently, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, that Russia would take adequate steps to deliver on pledges and promises with Africa countries. “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps,” Volodin reassured.

On the summit, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has explained earlier that arranging an event on such a large-scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government required most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content and equally important was African businesspeople who have been looking to work on the Russian market.

“The economic component of the summit has a special significance as it would be of practical interest for all the parties. As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition,” Minister Lavrov noted in an interview posted to his official website.

For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and new strategies for cooperation in energy, oil and gas, trade and industry, agriculture and other economic areas in Africa.

President Vladimir Putin noted at the VTB Capital’s Russia Calling Forum, that many countries had been “stepping up their activities on the African continent” but added that Russia could not cooperate with Africa “as it was in the Soviet period, for political reasons.”

In his opinion, cooperation with African countries could be developed on a bilateral basis as well as on a multilateral basis, through the framework of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

But so far, Russia has not pledged adequate funds toward implementing its business projects and other policy objectives in Africa. Russia’s investment efforts in the region have been limited thus far which some experts attributed to lack of a system of financing policy projects. While Russia government is very cautious about making financial commitments, Russia’s financial institutions are not closely involved in foreign policy initiatives in Africa.

As publicly known in recent years, China has offered $60 billion, Japan $32 billion, and India $25 billion, while large cutting-edge investment funds have also come from the United States and European Union, all towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa.

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