AFTER getting a second-hand helicopter from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa says he now fully supports Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
This is a material foreign policy shift, from a nuanced neutrality and pro-Russian stance, to a reckless position of unconditional backing of the military aggression which violates the United Nations Charter on sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as international law.
Mnangagwa’s stance puts Zimbabwe in a new vulnerable political and security position in relation to the ongoing geopolitical conflict in Eastern Europe, which has global ramifications.
African countries are deeply divided down the middle over the issue. Mnangagwa also got a free consignment of grain meant for economically troubled African countries.
Russia has been under fire for its role in the invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the International Criminal Court (ICC) issue arrest warrants for Putin, and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, in relation to the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
Since then, several countries have condemned Russia’s overtures, with international bodies placing various sectors of Russia’s economy under sanctions. For instance, in May the European Union (EU) announced plans to ban imports of Russia’s diamonds — cutting off the world’s biggest diamond producer from one of its key markets.
In the same month, the United Kingdom also announced it would ban imports of Moscow’s diamonds later this year, as well as all imports of copper, aluminum and nickel of Russian origin.
While Zimbabwe says it has been taking a non-aligned stance in its relations with Russia, Mnangagwa has for the first time openly shown support for Russia in the war against Ukraine.
“Your excellency (Vladimir Putin), allow me to state that Zimbabwe is in solidarity with the Russia Federation military operation in your country’s special military operation in Ukraine,” he said this week on a side meeting at the second Russia-Africa Summit.
“As current chair of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPC), Zimbabwe unreservedly condemns the unjustified and vindictive ban on the sale of Russian diamonds on the world market. We reassure you your excellency, the Russian Federation support within the KPC because Zimbabwe is currently the chairman.”
Mnangagwa’s remarks came after Putin had gifted him with an Mi-38 presidential helicopter manufactured by Russian Helicopters, a state-owned company. Putin also announced Zimbabwe among six beneficiaries of Russia’s free-grain distribution scheme, set to help ailing countries.
“Our country is ready to make up for the Ukrainian grain, both on commercial basis and free of charge to those countries in Africa that are in dire need.
“As for the specific details, I should like to say that in the near months, three four months, we would be ready to provide grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, The Central African Republic and Eritrea. We will be ready to supply 25-50 000 tonnes of grain to each. We will ensure free shipping of this cargo,” Putin said in his opening speech at the summit in St Petersburg.
Mnangagwa has also appealed for Putin’s help in the country’s bid for a seat in the United National Security Council, an organ charged with ensuring international peace and security.
“May I highlight that Zimbabwe intends to bid for a non-permanent seat in the United States security council for the period 2027-28. We appeal for support of the Russian Federation. Similarly, Zimbabwe submitted a request to you Your Excellency to join the BRICS new development bank. We equally count on support of Your Excellency in this endeavour.
“Be rest assured Your Excellency, that my government is ready to welcome more Russian companies, to take advantage of the numerous opportunities which exist in the agro-industrial sectors, lithium mining energy and infrastructural development among other sectors.
“I am aware that our two countries have signed a number of instruments in areas that include mining, science, tourism, agriculture, defence and security. I urge our two sides to work towards the implementation of existing instruments as well as the finalisation of existing instruments.
Harare has in the past effectively but not openly taken sides in supporting Moscow’s war in Ukraine and in the ongoing geopolitical battle between the United States and Russia, to gain a foothold in Africa.
Zimbabwe’s support for Russia was shown last year when the country abstained from voting against Russia in the United Nations motions on Russia and Ukraine.
In March last year, Zimbabwe abstained, then voted with Russia and later abstained again on UN motions on Russia over Ukraine, effectively putting itself behind Moscow in the scheme of things.
In the last vote in October last year after Russia’s controversial referenda in Russian-speaking Ukrainian territories — following Moscow’s veto of a similar move in the Security Council in late September — 26 African countries voted in favour of the resolution rejecting the referenda in four Ukrainian regions. Nineteen others abstained.
Russian has also been involved in shady business dealings with Zimbabwe. For instance, Rostec, a Russian state-owned conglomerate, has moved to supply equipment to Zimbabwe, after pulling out of the much-hyped US$3 billion Darwendale platinum mining deal two years ago.
Rostec has since delivered 18 out of 32 Kazan Ansat helicopters, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa says will be used for ambulance, disaster management, policing and wildlife protection duties.
While Mnangagwa said he personally sourced the helicopters from Putin, the nature and cost of the deal entered by government has remained unknown, raising eyebrows, as it was done without Parliament’s approval, sparking an outcry from debt watchdogs.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, the Russians pulled out of the Darwendale deal in 2021 due to a plethora of problems which include corruption, mismanagement, mistrust, and poor planning. After the deal crumbled, the Russians ceded their 50% stake in the company to Zimbabwe’s Kuvimba Mining House.
Parliament has queried Kuvimba Mining House’s shareholding, which is said to be 65% owned by the government and 35% by ghost shareholders.
The company now controls 50% of Great Dyke Investments.