Russia-Africa Ties: Kremlin for a Mideast Meet -By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
A continent not known for any extra energy resources, Africa has been ignored by neo-imperialist USA and European states who other wise speak about lack of “democracy” and seek “regime changes” for advancing their resources goal don’t bother about democracy and regime issues in Africa. But China and Russia are making diplomatic efforts invest in Africa for profits taking into account the cheap labour and raw materials in the region.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev embarked on a four-day African tour on 23 June, covering Egypt, Nigeria, Angola and Namibia. Beginning with a visit to pro-West Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for talks on economics and politics particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the disputed Iranian elections, Medvedev is scheduled to have a hectic time. Medvedev’s trip appears focused on helping Russian companies gain additional access to the continent’s natural resources wealth. The president arrived in Egypt on 23 June, and then goes on to. The main focus is on key Russian export strengths, especially energy resources and nuclear power. His visit comes at a time when Russia is trying to strengthen its global, strategic role.
President Medvedev, in his first official visit to Africa, and the first by a Russian head of state for more than three years has met his Egyptian counterpart, Mubarak, in Cairo at the start of a four-day trip to Africa. Russia’s economic and trade ties, as well as the Middle East peace process, were expected to be high on the agenda in talks between Medvedev and Mubarak. Medvedev is due to sign a nuclear energy deal in Egypt, which is Russia’s top trading partner in the continent. He will later visit Nigeria, Namibia and Angola, where he will seek to promote Russian business interests, particularly in the energy sector.
Medvedev also seeks to rekindle the Soviet Union’s once-close ties with Egypt, which have been complicated recently by a dispute over the quality of Russian grain exports. Last month, Egypt declined to accept Russian grain after it said a 137,000-ton shipment contained an excess of insects and seeds. The Federal Phytosanitary Inspection Service, Russia’s agriculture watchdog, consequently rejected 168 tons of Egyptian oranges in the port of Novorossiysk after finding a large number of Mediterranean fruit flies in a shipment, but Russian Foreign Ministry officials said the grain dispute would not hurt relations.
Egypt is the world’s eighth-largest LNG exporter, but it wants to meet rising local demand before committing to any new export deals. The presidents have plenty to discuss, particularly economic ties that comprised just 0.3 percent of Russia’s overall foreign trade in the first four months of 2009. Energy tops the agenda, as both Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko are accompanying Medvedev. Rosatom, the state nuclear corporation, is planning to sign a deal in Egypt that would allow it to bid for the right to build the country’s first nuclear power station and to explore for uranium. Gazprom has expressed interest in investing in Egypt and Nigeria, both members of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. The group, which also includes Russia and Iran, is scheduled to hold its next meeting on June 30 in Doha, Qatar. Talks were held with Mahmud Latif, chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, in December to discuss opportunities for Gazprom to join exploration and production projects there, including buying into Egypt’s two liquefied natural gas plants.
The visit comes on the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama’s well-received visit to Cairo earlier this month. But the situation in the region has already shifted, rocked by the mass protests, engineered by the US/UK-inspired opposition, over the Iranian presidential election, making Medvedev’s visit to the regional power broker “extremely timely”. At the same time, there is uneasiness in the relationship now; thousands of Russian students travel to Egypt to pursue Islamic studies and often “come back as radical Islamists”. Russians feel it is necessary for the countries to coordinate actions in preventing their radicalization. Thirty Russian citizens were detained in Egypt earlier this month during a police document check at a Cairo university. Four Chechens were deported to Russia last week despite concerns for their safety, and one of them, the son of a rebel leader, has not been seen since arriving at a Moscow airport.
Just last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev chaired three international summits, including SCO and the first meeting of the leaders of the so-called Bric developing countries involving Brazil, Russia, India and China. At Bric meet in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev said that reserve currencies, including the dollar, “have not managed to perform their functions. Both Russia and China have questioned the role of the dollar in the world’s economy, leading to speculation that Bric might be considering the creation of a new global reserve currency. As the global recession bites, the four Bric nations are showing a growing willingness to work together and called for a bigger say in the global financial system.
Despite the relatively modest $600 million in trade from January to April, Russian grain exports and Egypt-bound tourists make it Moscow’s biggest economic partner on the trip. Medvedev and Mubarak signed five bilateral agreements in the spheres of security, justice, environment, culture and information. Russia and Egypt have already signed an accord in March 2008 on nuclear co-operation, possibly opening the way for Russia to construct nuclear power stations in the country. The first reactor, on the Mediterranean coast, will be constructed at a cost of more than $1.5bn (£750m). The Kremlin said: “The signing of an agreement on a strategic partnership between Russia and Egypt will become the central event of the Cairo summit.” Following talks, Mubarak said he supported Russia’s proposal for an international conference in Moscow on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Kremlin declined to provide additional information on the trip. Spokespeople at the Egyptian, Nigerian and Angolan embassies in Moscow said they could not comment on the meetings. So, Russia is taken very seriously.
In Nigeria, Medvedev is expected to focus more on energy. After his two-day visit to Egypt, Medvedev heads to Nigeria, where Russia’s powerful gas giant, Gazprom, wants to secure contracts to build pipelines. In particular, the company is interested in the proposed Trans-Saharan pipeline, which would deliver Nigerian gas to Europe. Gazprom was picked by Nigeria as one of 15 companies in April to be core investors in the exploration and production of its gas reserves, the world’s seventh-largest. In September, Gazprom and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Company signed an agreement to look for joint projects to develop gas fields and transport the fuel. Gazprom also signed a memorandum of understanding with NNPC in April to analyze three oil blocks there for possible exploration. An agreement in Nigeria, which would allow the countries to cooperate in nuclear energy, will be signed.
After Nigeria, Medvedev will head southwest to Namibia, where he is scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening. In 2007, VTB, Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group and Tekhsnabexport, or TENEX, a unit of Rosatom’s Atomenergoprom holding for civilian nuclear assets, created a joint venture to produce uranium there. Representatives of uranium miner Atomredmetzoloto, another Rosatom unit, will be going to Namibia. The company established a joint venture with VTB and Russian private equity firm Arlan last year to explore uranium deposits in western Namibia. The Russian president has meetings arranged with well-known African figures, including Namibia’s founding father, Sam Nujoma, as well as a safari trip. The Namibia-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation is overseeing the new business partnership.
Medvedev’s last stop was Angola, Namibia’s northern neighbor, where Alrosa has a diamond branch in the capital, Luanda. The state diamond monopoly said in April that it was pulling out of its joint venture in Angola following the collapse of the world diamond market. Alrosa has also cut production in Russia, where state depository Gokhran has been buying all of the company’s output until prices recover.
Medvedev’s visit is only the second time a Russian president has traveled to sub-Saharan Africa. Former president and Russia’s strong man Vladimir Putin visited South Africa and Morocco in 2006, and he also met with Mubarak in Cairo in 2005. The long-serving Egyptian president elicited a frown from then-President Putin on his most recent visit to Moscow, in March 2008, when he joked that he saw “few differences” between him and President-elect Medvedev.
President Dmitry Medvedev while in Egypt on his Mideast tour said a Middle East peace conference before the end of 2009 would be convened a move backed by Egypt. Russia, which had proposed such conferences in the past but vould noy hold any so far, is a member of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators, along with the EU, the USA and the UN. Medvedev said after talks with Egyptian President Mubarak: “We paid special attention to Middle East issues. We highly appreciate efforts by the Egyptian president to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation in the region,” He said at a joint news conference in Cairo that the Moscow Middle East conference, which they plan to hold before the end of the year, will also contribute to achieving this goal.
Outside the Islamic world, Russia is one among a few nations that support Hamas or, at least don’t oppose their genuine claims. Moscow is the only quartet member talking to Hamas, the group that controls Gaza but which is snubbed by Israel and the West. Yasser Abed Rabbo, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said, “We welcome the holding of an international conference in Moscow. But before it can go ahead, there must be real improvements.” This included stopping Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian land and an Israeli commitment to a two-state solution.
The Palestinians, like Egypt and other Arab states, have dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conditional proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state. Medvedev’s trip to Egypt comes less than three weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Cairo. Fascist Israel says it “would, in principle, agree to attend, provided, of course, that “anti-peace elements” such as Hamas and Hezbollah are not invited.” Israel seeks no peace in the region and hence the fascist leadership promotes state terrorism in Palestine, each time they invade, killing innocent Palestinians whose lands they occupy.
Obviously, the Medvedev’s African visit is part of a bid to bolster Russia’s global role. The countries he was visiting are rich in natural resources. Rosneft, the largest Russian oil company, whose chief is joining the delegation accompanying Medvedev, has announced its intention to expand its African operations. The final two countries on Medvedev’s itinerary, Namibia and Angola , present new opportunities for Russian corporations in the spheres of diamonds, metals, hydrocarbons and uranium. Alrosa , Russia ‘s state diamond corporation has worked in Angola for almost two decades. It has stakes in two existing joint ventures, and wants to explore for diamonds and diversify its holdings in energy. Russian companies have technical licences to prospect for uranium in Namibia, where energy, uranium reserves and tourism present potentially rich pickings.
Egypt has become the center of diplomatic exercises by big and medium powers on account of its proactive role in the strangled Palestine issue. Egypt mediates between Palestine and Israel, on the one hand, and Hamas and Fatah, on the other. Leaders of USA, Palestine, Israel keep flocking to Cairo for diplomatic adventures to resolve the crisis in Mideast by establishing – and already much delayed- Palestine state. Perhaps no other international issue has brought together so many times to discus the same issue without any real outcomes Palestine issue has been and the cause is the stubborn Zionist regime to black any peace move to force the Israelis to surrender the ands and sovereignty to the Palestinians. Russia is also making its “legitimate’ bid to convene a peace meet on Mideast. Last year a proposal was mad by the Kremlin only to be shelved by Russia for unknown reasons.
The political dimension of Medvedev’s trip has not been stressed by Moscow. Instead, Russian businessmen have accentuated the potential for making money. They acknowledge just how far Russia has fallen behind the major investors in Africa, particularly China. The volume of trade between Russia and the African countries remains paltry. For example, the Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that trade with Nigeria is worth $300m annually – as opposed to China’s $11bn. Today, in terms of influence, Russia lags far behind China and the US – not just in Egypt but right across the African continent, where it once had considerable influence. As the battle for the world’s energy and mineral resources gathers pace, that weakness is one that Medvedev will be keen to address. Medvedev headed for Africa aware that Russia is far behind Western and Chinese companies when it comes to securing a share of the continent’s natural wealth.
It is all part of what the Kremlin believes should be a truly global role for Russia, in keeping with what Moscow calls a multi-polar world, with several strong regional spheres of influence. The Africa trip is in continuation of Russia’s efforts possibly to forge an international coalition to face the unipolarity move of US-led west. The Soviet Union’s ties with Africa were political and ideological. The continent was a key battleground in the stand-off between East and West, the battles fought most often by proxy. Russia’s relations with Africa declined so quickly when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now a newly-assertive Russia is trying to bolster a global role, often in regions far from its own borders. Most Russians believe both Putin and Medvedev would lead Russia back to the era of Soviet glory making the nation a real super power to promote real equality at home and to effectively challenge the unilateralism of neo-imperialism.
Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Independent Researcher in International Affairs, The only Indian to have gone through entire India, a fraud and terror nation,