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Russian FM Makes Deals, Affirms Old Friendships on Africa Tour


Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 8, 2018.

Russia’s foreign minister has signed economic agreements and solidified ties in Zimbabwe, one of five stops on an Africa tour that includes former Soviet client states Mozambique, Ethiopia and Angola.

The stated aim of Sergey Lavrov’s trip to old ally Zimbabwe was to reaffirm relations and to ink deals that the Kremlin says will “cement bilateral ties.”

Throwing jabs at Tillerson

Lavrov signed three cooperation agreements on trade and industry during the Thursday visit to Harare which coincided with his American counterpart’s first trip to the continent this week.

The famously sharp-tongued official took the chance to slam the U.S. policy of imposing sanctions in Zimbabwe over alleged human rights abuses and other acts of repression.

“We are certainly, categorically against any unilateral steps such as sanctions or trying to impose measures forcing this or that country to do something,” he said. “Such measures are unfortunately placed against Zimbabwe. We believe that these politicized steps distort the market and the countries that invoke these measures interfere illegally within the play of free-market forces.”

He also criticized U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for his view on Chinese involvement in Africa, as the three traditional world powers compete for influence on the world’s fastest-growing continent. In a speech before his departure, Tillerson accused China of "encouraging dependency" in Africa.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki, of Chad, after their meeting at African Union headquarters, Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki, of Chad, after their meeting at African Union headquarters, Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I didn’t know that Rex Tillerson was a specialist in Chinese-Africa,” he said. “Anyway, I do not think it is entirely appropriate if he indeed said that. And it was not appropriate of him to criticize the relations of his hosts when he was a guest there.”

Old friends vs new allies

Tillerson's trip to Africa, which began Tuesday, is taking him to Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, all countries the United States has cooperated with governments to counter terrorism. Tillerson has said U.S. policy toward Africa is based on promoting security, development and good governance.

Analyst Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says Lavrov’s itinerary also tells a story.

“The majority of these countries where Lavrov is going are former Soviet allies: Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia,” Borshchevskaya told VOA. “And there’s several things that Lavrov’s trying to do here. One is, the Kremlin has understood, for quite some time now, that Africa is important, economically and for a number of other reasons. They’re also trying to return Russia back to the areas from which it retreated in the turbulent 1990s, and certainly Africa is one of those regions.”

Christopher Mutsvangwa, special advisor to Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, says Zimbabwe’s interest in Russia is not ideological, but economic.

“Russia is a superpower,” he told VOA in Harare.“We are now taking the relationship to a new level. … If Zimbabwe can produce world-class goods made in Zimbabwe for the global market, we’ll be able to address most of the foreign currency constraints we have and create more jobs, for Zimbabweans.”

Sebastian Mhofu contributed to this report from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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