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Russia and Africa at the Crossroad

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A decade and half ago, precisely in May 2004, this opinion article has since remained unpublished by the local Russian and foreign media. But, this time when Sochi is preparing to host the first historic Russia-Africa Summit, some aspects are still important for enriching public knowledge about the Russia-African relationship.

Understandably, in 2004 the theme “Russia and Africa at the Crossroad” formed the basis for the scientific conference that forms an integral but the most significant part of the “Africa Week” was celebrated in Moscow. Soon after the academic conference and to an extent, the theme has generated diverse views and debatable opinions, even until the present day. What is the importance of “Russia and Africa at the Crossroad” today?

Even though Russia shows a growing interest and opening up relations with African countries, there still exist bewilderingly large number of knowledgeable Africans (including politicians, business people and high-ranking diplomats) who have refused to face the bitter truth and recognize facts posed by the present-day political and economic factors shaping Russia’s policy toward African countries after the Soviet collapse.

Driven by real curiosity to ascertain how African and Russian academics and experts think about Russia-African ties, I willingly accepted an invitation to attend the above-mentioned African conference. The half-empty hall was the first sign of declining interest in the continent’s affairs, even by the Africans including diplomats themselves. For me and for a few of my colleagues, the most striking question, among others, till day is whether Russia really needs Africa or vice versa.

Thereafter, the ninth Africanist conference held at the Institute for African Studies drew more than 150 academics and experts from different countries. The conference exhaustively debated this controversial topic of Africa’s relations with Russia, or Russia’s relations with Africa, within the context of globalization and development.

By and large, time has distinctly changed and there are signs of hope for better ties and energized friendship with African countries. Important to say that Russia’s internal policies have ushered in more opportunities than there were in the Soviet era and therefore it would be shortsightedness to say that Russia has ignored Africa in its foreign policy activities as many Africans have already thought.

In the present situation, the problem of Russia-African relations under President Vladimir Putin is increasingly becoming re-activated compared to Boris Yeltsin’s days popularly referred to as “the Lost Decade” on Africa.

It’s, however, true that the most important factors are the revision of the policy concept which has manifested itself in a drastic change of preferences in favor of cooperation with Southeast Asian region, Europe and Western countries. On the other hand, African countries, too, have to demonstrate their interests especially in the economic spheres with Russia.

It is completely absurd to think that Russia has to adopt a universal approach to the whole continent. This is practically unacceptable, impossible and an unprofitable venture. In this setting, Russia can only apply its “selective diplomacy” which it always does, by trying to preserve high-level trade and economic relations with a few priority African countries.

Many western countries are helping Africa to develop. Apparently, Russia has also realized that many foreign players are supporting Africa’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) simply because it has seen it as an opportunity and conduit pipe to develop businesses, for example, huge infrastructural projects that are being built across the continent. Russia has only indicated its support, in principle, without watching what’s far beyond, but the United States, Europe and Asian countries have already done its own calculations, estimated economic and business returns.

Some global leaders have been craftily treading by visiting the continent and sending high-level trade and investment delegations promising to help integrate into the globalization and development process. The U.S. trade policy, for example, Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is one major step forward to penetrate and deepen business roots into Africa – offer U.S. industries and companies to manufacture goods in African countries. African exporters have been granted with trade preferences and flexible customs rules and regulations but strict on products quality.

Of course, Russia has made some efforts in the past, investing in Africa and training African specialists and the African Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences has also made research contributions to the Africa studies in Russia but, to a large extent, failed in turning the research efforts or results into profitable undertaking. The Institute remains cash-strapped and most of the hardworking researchers have left for alternative gainful employment elsewhere and/or abroad. What is worse within the context, Russian enterprises and business, in practice, offer little support to academic studies and research.

Globalization is as irresistible as it is inescapable. Unfortunately, while the rest of the world is rapidly globalizing, Africa has been left behind due to “Afro-pessimism” and “Afrocentric” attitudes. Changing the negative perceptions of Africa must be a challenge for African leadership in politics, business, academia and civil society. Africa really need to properly position itself as a key player in global economic sectors if it wants to improve the living standards for the 1.2 billion population.

Many Asian countries such as India, China and Singapore have benefited from globalization, while retaining certain key aspects of their local character and culture. Africa needs to do the same through good leadership, governance and well thought out policies and strategies that fit into the changing dynamics of a globalizing world.

It is a well-known fact that Africa largely has untapped natural resources and the market is potentially wide. Africa has the third largest oil reserves after Middle East and Latin America. Five countries account for 85% of the continent’s oil production – Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, Angola and Algeria. The remaining 15% produced in Gabon, Congo, Cameroon, Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire.

But one more fact about Africa is that it is composed of a multiplicity of social and ethnic groups. Many African countries have had varying degrees of endless conflicts, these have negative effects on relations with external countries including Russia. It seems a “new development thinking” and a “bottom-up development strategy” are necessary – primarily to improve infrastructure, modernize agriculture and focus on manufacturing, employment generating sectors as well as health and education – that could help minimize all kinds of conflicts there.

Sadly enough, forging progressively ahead with good policies that can ensure economic stability and prosperity as dictated by the global changes seemed completely out of sight for many African leaders. After the Soviet collapse, Russia has significantly changed making foreign investments and trade priority. Africans have the same chances as well. Looking at Russia’s market and the economic scene, only a few African countries are indisputably playing active role in Russia’s competitive economy.

Africa’s overall involvement in Russia is extremely negligible due to obvious factors. Most feared to tread the path of Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa, their products are gradually gaining foothold on the market. If Africans are seeking genuine development of mutually bilateral relationships with Russia, they must on their part, therefore to demonstrate bravery and establish the needed presence in Russia rather than perch on the sidelines. An increased involvement will help to perpetuate the expected economic cooperation they dream to achieve.

Africa could benefit substantially from well-functioning Russia-African relations, but again there are no organized non-government agencies committed to see such relations established and perfectly managed. The African business community is grossly absent in Moscow. Back in Africa, doing business presents real problems: poor business culture, poor infrastructure and technology. Above all, there is deep-seated corruption among the political elites and graft has become an accepted order of the day.

In an interview, Professor Vladimir Shubin, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, reiterated: “Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments of Russian culture, the economy, science and technology in order to form a positive perception of Russia abroad and a friendly attitude towards it as stated by the new Concept of the Foreign Policy.”

Unfortunately, effective means of influencing public opinion in Africa, as such as broadcasting and publishing have been lost in the Yeltsin’s era and have to be developed again. It must form one of the key foreign policy tasks of the state, according to Professor Shubin. In addition, Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and his colleagues might have shared the same thoughts with Professor Shubin.

In April 2004, more than 100 members of the political and business elites who gathered at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy annual retreat, drummed home preliminary plans to create an NGO something parallel to the Alliance Francais or the British Council as a way to promote better understanding of Russia abroad. That resulted into the creation of Russkiy Mir, but Russkiy Mir is still extremely weak on the African side. Soft Power is currently softer in the Russia-African relations.

The dark rainy clouds over Africa have long descended and the skies are getting brighter than before, Africans can still see far beyond their narrow self-centered interest, now that they have the African Union, – an important continental force to reckon with. The African Union, as a powerful instrument could broadly be used to solve the continent’s concrete multiple problems especially pushing the African Industrial Revolution in addition to the Continental Trade. There must be clear perspectives and this ought to be, however, for Africans themselves to provide legitimacy to whatever they want especially towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is time for African governments to review, set priority to removing obstacles and working productively so that the real benefits impact on the lives of the people and society. Africans should explicitly understand that the Russian government has made a complete turnabout from the communist past, now is briskly doing business with foreign countries and further looking to trade favorably with the international community, share its scientific and industrial achievements.

President Vladimir Putin could, indeed, give a strong and fresh impetus, not only in strengthening the existing relations, but also open entirely a new chapter with multiple and broad business opportunities that will boost the economy of Russia and Africa.

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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Modest results of the meeting in Geneva

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Presidents Joseph Biden and Vladimir Putin met in Geneva on Wednesday, June 16. Both separately noted that the talks went well. “There’s been no hostility,” Putin said. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.” Biden meanwhile declared “the tone of the entire meeting… was good. Positive.”

The spirit may have been constructive and the tone positive, but no major step forward was made to reset the chronically strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Although the meeting went as well as could be expected, major differences remain on a range of issues, including cyberattacks and human rights.

Putin rejected accusations Russia was involved in cyberattacks against U.S. institutions and declared that the U.S. government was the main offender in this area. On human rights he said that the U.S. supports opposition groups in Russia in order to weaken it, since Washington openly sees Russia as an adversary. Putin reiterated that Moscow did not see domestic politics as up for negotiation or discussion. He also said that pro-Trump demonstrators who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were merely expressing reasonable political demands, for which they now faced punitive jail terms.

For his part Biden ensured the summit would be seen as the opposite of Donald Trump’s notably cordial meeting with Putin in Helsinki three years ago. He said that he had pressed the Russian leader on a range of issues, such as human rights, and that he would continue doing so. “No President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view,” Biden said he told Putin. “That’s just part of the DNA of our country… It’s about who we are.”

On the modest plus side the two leaders agreed that their ambassadors, who were recalled amid the rising tensions, should return to their posts in the near future. In addition, the U.S. and Russia would start “consultations” on cyber-related issues. As for the overall tone of the meeting, the Russian president paraphrased Leo Tolstoy by saying “there is no happiness in life only glimmers of it. Cherish them.”

“I think that in this situation, there can’t be any kind of family trust,” Putin concluded. “But I think we’ve seen some glimmers.”

Media commentary around the world reflected one common theme: at least it is reassuring that there is a dialogue. “The US-Russian summit in Geneva confirmed the low expectations for the meeting,” commented the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland’s leading daily:

There were hardly any concrete agreements, but at least the American president is no longer inviting attack from his Russian counterpart. The chorus of commentators was pretty unanimous in the run-up to the summit from Moscow to Washington: There was no significant room for concessions or a change of strategy, either on the American or on the Russian side. The expectations therefore had to be set extremely low.

These low expectations were noted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well, which found it encouraging that the meeting lasted considerably longer than expected. The paper also thought it a hopeful sign that “the Russian President, who had already made the Pope and the British [sic!] Queen wait, arrived on time.”

“The summit flowed along conventional diplomatic lines:” wrote The Guardian; “a handshake, several hours of intensive talks and separate press conferences afterwards. The ghost of Helsinki was exorcised.” According to the British daily, the obvious and easy “deliverables” were achieved:

“One was to normalise the situation of Russia and America’s ambassadors…

“There will also be consultations between the US state department and the Russian foreign ministry on a range of issues including the Start III nuclear treaty, due to expire in 2024, and cybersecurity.”

The Russian media, unlike their Western counterparts, emphasize that one area of agreement in Geneva concerned the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted Putin’s statement that Biden agreed with him that the Minsk agreements should be at the heart of the settlement in Ukraine. Quoting Peter Kuznick, professor of history at American University, the paper notes the summit was an important step in the right direction for both sides. No one expected a breakthrough, he said, but the two leaders respectfully and clearly indicated their interest in finding possible areas of common interest:

Both presidents understood each other’s ‘red lines’ and marked them more clearly. Their summaries after the meeting did not contradict, but rather emphasized and complemented each other. It seems to me that Putin was speaking to the whole world, while Biden spoke more to an audience within America, with an emphasis on human rights.

Considering the current state of bilateral relations, the Geneva summit is the maximum that could be expected. All that was deemed possible, but not obligatory, did happen, Professor Fyodor Lukyanov of Moscow’s School of Economics noted.

The conversation was businesslike and informative. This means that from the insane phase we’ve had in recent years, with normal relationship replaced by sheer hysteria, we are moving into a phase of more structured rivalry… The summit only outlined a way out of the impasse. Now we have to do all the work that is normally done before the summit. Since it was not done this time, solid steps will be prepared for some future milestone.

Prior to this meeting, Washington strengthened Russophobic sentiments in countries that follow American foreign policy. The peak of Russophobia was represented by the events in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, but also by a number of other states which adjust it`s foreign policy to Washington’s foreign policy. Bearing in mind that at the moment relations between Washington and Moscow are not friendly, under American command, that kind of states accuse Russia constantly, including for events that happened years ago.

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Biden-Putin Geneva Summit: Even A Little More Than Nothing Means A Lot

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Was the, with little expectations, but a lot of combinations and nervousness, awaited summit of the Presidents of America and Russia, a failure? It was not. And can it be described as a success, as a breakthrough from the winter of a renewed Cold War? Again – no! So what was this summit then, what – if anything – did the Geneva meeting bring?

It was an attempt that could not be written off as a complete failure, it was an indication that – as President Biden said – there is no alternative to face-to-face talks. And it was a hint of hope that the two great powers, one a superpower and the other much more than a regional power, as President Obama mockingly called it, might be able to set out to identify common interests and work together in those areas, as well as find ways and methods. to resolve what is in dispute in their relationship. Where we should not forget the saying  by Lev Tolstoj, quoted during his press conference by President Putin: “In life there is no hope, there is only a promise of hope.”

And it is that promise of hope, what we can call the only tangible result of the summit which lasted about three and a half hours, instead of the announced five to six. Of course, this will fuel new speculations and different interpretations from those that Biden was tired and lost the concentration, to the one that the participants reached a deadlock but – not wanting to make things even worse, than they already are – simply stopped.

Of the concrete results, the world has learned only one, just one: two states are returning their ambassadors to their places: the Russian ambassador is returning to Washington, and the American to Moscow. Everything else remained in the domain of what Biden defined, correcting one journalist who aggressively asked him: “And how can you be confident, that . . .?”. He said, namely: “I did not say  I’m confident, but we ‘ll see.” And what we should see is the continuation of talks on the control and hopefully arms reduction (nuclear in the first place), the formation of a working group between the two countries that would deal with the cyber attacks, so-called hacking. Then (and again the announcement!) the possibility of talks on the exchange of arrested American citizens in Russia, ie Russians in America, as well as the approach to the problem in Ukraine based on the agreement from Minsk (confirmed by both presidents!). And what is particularly important: a joint effort to achieve strategic stability.

About this and only about this, not about the whole meeting, a joint statement by the two Presidents was published: “The extension of the New START agreement demonstrates our commitment to the control of nuclear weapons. Today, we reaffirm the principle that nuclear war cannot be won and that it must never be fought . “It may not seem like much, but it is. Today, it is!    

Both sides agreed, and the two presidents held separate press conferences, that the talks took place in a constructive atmosphere and that there were no threats from either side. Putin described Biden as a sensible and experienced politician, and Biden skillfully avoided journalistic insistence on how he explained to Putin why he called him a killer : “My explanation was good enough for him and that’s enough for me.” On the other hand, the pragmatic Putin indirectly referred to Biden’s statement, quoted so many times, that, looking Putin in the eye at a previous meeting, he concluded that he had no soul. “We do not have to look each other into eyes, searching for the soul, nor do we have to make eternal friendship”, said Putin.

A confirmation that it was a summit convened with no great expectations is the fact that neither Putin invited Biden to Moscow, nor was Putin invited by Biden to Washington. But, and again, even a little more than nothing, is much, especially when we take into account the circumstances in which the Geneva summit was held and all that happened in previous years.

Of course, the US side “recited” their compulsory program of complaints regarding Russia’s violations of human rights, including the statement that the deaths in jail of opposition leader Navalny would be “a disaster” for relations of the two countries. In doing so, Biden went a little too far, arguing that the struggle for human rights is something that is part of the American being, “it’s us,” consciously forgetting that the United States from their beginnings until the sixtieth of the last century denied basic human rights, initially even freedom, to all its colored citizens, that the first unit composed of colored Americans enlisted in the U.S. Army only in World War II (but separately from whites) , and that cases of racial discrimination even today happen practically on daily basis. Putin, as it could have been expected, used this at his press conference to counter every question related to the human rights in Russia (what was by CNN, not denying anything of what Putin said, proclaimed as a return to the methods of Soviet propaganda). Too bad no one remembered to ask what the consequences would be and for whom if Julian Assange would die in jail.

Almost “under the radar” passed a significant concession made by the United States, ie the deviation from their previous position. The intention (however, this is just the announcement) to form a working group of the two countries to deal with the cyber attacks means that in silence the accusations that such attacks were staged by Russia, the Russian secret services, and even Putin himself, were abandoned.

The atmosphere, not only the one in which the Geneva summit was held, but the one in the Western world, could be deduced the most from the behavior of journalists who were questioning the two presidents. It is neither uninteresting nor unimportant to mention that American journalists could have been present at Putin’s press conference, while Russian journalists were banned from Biden’s. press conference. But it was these American journalists who behaved at both press conferences like barking dogs (which is not to say anything bad about dogs). In their questions they insisted on confrontation, on the continuation of confrontation ( “Have you threatened to use military force ? “, was one of the questions to Biden). One of the most evident examples of pre-prepared questions, no matter what, and certainly regardless of the facts, was the one about Russians demanding that journalists of Radio Liberty (the Russian version of Radio Free Europe) register as “foreign agents “. Putin, namely, previously explained, and it is a matter of common knowledge to anyone who is familiar in the media scene, that it were the Americans who first demanded that Russian journalists in the United States register as foreign agents. Then, and only then did Russia introduce the same for the American journalists working there.

But obviously it is true that what one can do, another cannot do. Along with the sad statement that a large part of the journalists in the West, consciously or not, accepted to be turned into a propaganda weapon of the ruling.

So it is not at all impossible that Biden, although “secured” by the presence of his experts, from the Secretary of State to the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as with a separate press conference, will experience in America something similar , albeit in a milder form, to what befell Trump after his talks with Putin in Helsinki. Obviously, there are strong forces in the United States (which then influence the behavior in the first place of the Atlantic Pact, but then the European Union too), which are not interested in peace and understanding, which base its existence on confrontation, on the existence of enemies. Real, or imaginary – it doesn’t matter. And obviously there is a propaganda apparatus that serves them. They simply cannot like Biden’s statement that his agenda is not against Russia, but for American people.

But if that statement becomes what will make the summit memorable (in the city of peace, as the Swiss president said while welcoming Biden and Putin), then it is entirely justified to say that the meeting, which was by no means spectacular, which lasted shorter. than it was expected, which did not result in any key breakthroughs in any area, was not in vain. Because, if there is a President in the White House whose program is not to “work against Russia” and if Putin knows that now, then there is a chance that the world will move away from the edge of general chaos into which it is inevitably pushed by the worsening American-Russian relations. Then there is, as Tolstoy would say, a promise of hope.

*The first superpowers summit that, Mr. Jakic personally covered was a Carter – Brezhnev meeting in Vienna 1979.

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Biden pushed China and Russia to rebel against one other

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

Biden’s anti-China measures have been increasingly regular in recent years. He not only continued to encircle China with his Asian and European friends, but he also began with Russia’s ideals. Biden used the occasion of the US-Russia meeting to instigate Sino-Russian ties, encouraging China and Russia to be “anti-objective” in order to cause difficulty for China. However, Biden’s wishful thinking is clearly incorrect, because Putin has already demonstrated through actual acts that he will not be duped by Biden.

According to a transcript of the press conference posted on the White House website, Biden stated after meeting with Putin that he felt the last thing Putin wanted to see was a cold war with the US. When discussing this problem, Biden brought up China, portraying it as a “danger” to Russia. Biden stated that China is currently expanding, whether economically or militarily, and that China has “big objectives.” Russia’s economy is suffering and needs to grow. As a result, he does not believe Putin desires a cold war with the United States.

In reality, Biden has already provoked Russia on a number of topics. At this point, he abruptly shifted his advantage to Russia. There must be something odd going on. Prior to the arrival of the US-Russia summit, Biden is said to have stressed his desire to build a “solid and predictable” relationship with Russia. Some experts say Biden wants to soften his ties with “established competitors,” such as Russia, before focusing on the “new strategic competitor,” China.

At the time, Biden wanted to focus not just on fixing China’s difficulties, but also on enlisting Russia’s assistance in dealing with China. However, Biden obviously misjudged the extent of China-Russia relations while overestimating the US’s own affinity to Russia.

Prior to the meeting, Putin stated in an exclusive interview with US NBC that Russia does not consider China to be a danger. China is a friendly country that has not declared Russia an adversary, as the US has. Putin also stated that due to the nature and quality of Sino-Russian ties, Russia will not be concerned about China’s development.

In reality, not just Putin, but many officials from both countries have jointly confirmed China and Russia’s deep relationship. Previously, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Sino-Russian ties are at their highest in history. Wang Yi, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister, also stated that the “China-Russia combination” is as strong as a mountain. The more volatile the globe, the closer China-Russia collaboration. Take a strong step forward. In contrast to Russia and the United States, Putin has stated unequivocally that Russia-US ties have reached a low point in recent years.

Under these conditions, it is nearly difficult for Biden to effectively instigate ties between China and Russia. Furthermore, China and Russia have demonstrated through actual actions that the two countries’ relationship is extremely excellent, and the two sides aim to expand friendly cooperation in other areas.

Rogozin, President of the Russian National Aerospace Corporation, stated that China and Russia are considering collaboration with a variety of parties to create an international lunar research station, and he also stated that Russia may send astronauts to China’s space station. Whether Putin provided the reassurance in person or by other means, it is sufficient to demonstrate that Sino-Russian ties are quite cordial, and there is no place for Biden to succeed. So Biden believed he could persuade Russia to negotiate with China with only a few words.

He was very naïve back then. Rather of wasting time worrying about some pointless and highly dull things to deal with China, Biden should focus on his own health, particularly cognitive problems. After all, he “cannot tell the difference between Trump and Putin.” Based on the existing circumstances, Biden should not be expecting any brilliant proposals for the future growth of the United States.

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