By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russian diplomats at the Foreign Ministry have been stepping efforts to get first-hand blistering information on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, its primary causes and implications to African governments.
On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a special military operation, after both the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) approved the implementation of the presidential decision that has since sparked debates throughout the world. It has also pushed for the United States and Canada, European Union members and many other external countries to impose sanctions against Russia.
Long before the special military operation started February 24 aimed at “demilitarization and denazification” in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, there have been information disseminated, either fabricated or the absolute truth about Russia’s intentions using the power of social media. As seen in practice, Western and European media have strong operational networks throughout Africa.
Russian Foreign Ministry is worried about anti-Russia publications, the policy of propaganda and misinformation in some African media outlets. Obviously, Russian media is extremely weak on the African continent, and consequently local African media replicate information from western sources.
Over these past years, Russian diplomats claim to have a common understanding, expressions of solidarity and trusty position with African friends on global questions at international platforms, especially at the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the African Union, Regional Economic Organizations and the African governments are still and distinctively, divided over the Russia-Ukraine crisis due to divergent views and worse, afraid of contradictions and confrontations posed by the seemingly endless crisis and its effects on future relations.
Some policy experts say this Africans’ voting scenario at the UN opens a theme for a complete geopolitical study and analysis. It is necessary to understand its specific policy implications. As a new world is awakening, African leaders still believe that all countries have to respect and operate within the confines of international law. The circumstances demand settling disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice are not endangered. All countries must be guided profoundly by the principles of non-interference in internal matters, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
There is much of disinformation spreading around, including inside Africa, and consequently the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special meetings with African diplomatic representatives was to use the diplomatic channels to send down the official situational truth about the Russia-Ukraine crisis to various African governments.
According to reports, Russia and Africa have a close relationship and it becomes necessary to update with substantial information for geopolitical reasons. It was intended to provide explicit understanding into the genesis of the crisis. With the African diplomatic missions, the Russian Foreign Ministry has held two briefings, and one other special briefing with the Arab countries that included North Africa and Arab world.
Both on March 10 and 22, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov held special briefings for the heads of diplomatic missions of the African and Arab countries accredited in Russian Federation. It was fully devoted to the entire situation around Ukraine.
The diplomats were informed the reasons, goals and objectives of the ongoing special military operation, including those to ensure the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, protect the long-suffering people of Donbass, and eliminate the threat to Russia’s national security emanating from Ukrainian territory. There were also significant issues related to ensuring the security of the civilian population in Ukraine, the organization and operation of humanitarian corridors, and the provision of assistance to refugees.
The Foreign Ministry further explained to the representatives of African embassies questions relating with requests for assistance in providing safe exit (evacuations), including their citizens, from crisis-ridden Ukraine. During the meetings, questions from African diplomats about the activities of embassies in Moscow under the conditions of illegitimate sanctions imposed by Western, European and other countries on the Russian Federation were answered.
In addition to these special briefings, Deputy Minister Bogdanov held bilateral discussions with Ambassadors from Benin, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa and Tanzania. Interesting to recall here that at the UN on March 2, Nigeria and Egypt were among the 28 African countries that voted to condemn Russia.
On March 22, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Vershinin also held meetings with representatives of African states in the UN Security Council – Ambassador of the Gabonese Republic to the Russian Federation, Johanna Rose Mamiaka; Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to the Russian Federation, Oheneba Dr. Lesley Akyaa Opoku-Ware and Ambassador of the Republic of Kenya in the Russian Federation, Benson Ogutu.
Topical issues of Russia’s interaction with the African “troika” in the UN Security Council were discussed, incl. the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, the state of affairs in Libya, Somalia, and the reform of the Security Council. While briefing the African representatives, Minister Bogdanov indicated and reaffirmed Russia’s long-term intention to strengthen and develop traditionally friendly ties with African states was reaffirmed.
For their part, the heads of diplomatic missions thanked the Russian side for the detailed coverage of events in Ukraine and the opportunity to exchange views on topical aspects of the Russia-African agenda.
Earlier on February 28, Bogdanov received Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa, Mzuvukile Jeff Maketuka, exchanged messages on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and South Africa.
During the conversation, both discussed issues of further development of traditionally friendly Russia-South African relations, with an emphasis on strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation in the trade, economic, scientific and humanitarian spheres. Moscow and Pretoria eternally hope to deepen political dialogue and maintain effective coordination of positions in the UN, BRICS, the G20 and other international platforms. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also spoken with his African counterparts, including Equitorial Guinea, Morocco and South Africa.
Russia and South Africa are members of BRICS group. Soviet Union (now Russia) has maintained ties dating back from apartheid times and during the struggle for political independence. South Africa was one of 17 African nations to abstain on the UN resolution demanding that Russia immediately withdraw from Ukraine. It took a similar stance during Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has come under fierce criticisms over the official stand on Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Prior to the February 24 crisis which unfolded in Ukraine, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interests to broaden cooperation in trade and in the economic sectors in Africa. With an invariable commitment to strengthen and develop relations in a positive and constructive manner, and especially in these challenging circumstances, Moscow is still planning for the second Russia-African summit. The question of state support and business facilitation have been on the agenda these several years and was discussed during the panel session in Sochi.
Now Russia plans to open trade missions in a number of African countries, and of course, looking forward to exploring several opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which provides a unique and valuable access to an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. In practical reality, it aims at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments in Africa.
That however, it has been, oftentimes trumpeted that Russian business community lacks awareness regarding the current fast-changing state of African market, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. It is necessary to establish an effective system of communication to guarantee reliability and integrity, sharing business information, between business associations in Russia and Africa.
According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparations for the Russia-Africa summit are in the active stage. The dates of the summit have not been determined yet. The first Russia-Africa summit took place in October 2019, and it was co-chaired by Russian and Egyptian Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The next summit is scheduled for autumn 2022.