Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine, Moscow, March 5, 2018
Question: Your planned African tour in March 2018 includes five countries. It will be the most important visit by a Russian Foreign Minister to Africa in several decades. What is the goal of your visit?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia’s foreign policy is multi-directional. The African direction is one of our priorities, as the updated Foreign Policy Concept, which President of Russia Vladimir Putin approved in November 2016, says. We appreciate Africa’s contribution to the development of a fairer and more democratic polycentric world order and to the settlement of current problems.
Russia actively contributed to the independence of African countries and the development and strengthening of their states. Today, we maintain friendly relations that are spearheaded into the future. We are promoting our political dialogue, including the exchange of visits at the high and top levels, as well as trade and economic cooperation and relations between our parliaments.
The goal of my upcoming visit to Sub-Saharan countries – Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Ethiopia – is to promote multifaceted ties and find new areas of cooperation in trade, the economy, research, technology, culture and other areas. We hope to have in-depth exchanges of opinion on a wide range of global and regional issues, such as counterterrorism and conflict settlement, including in the Sahara-Sahel region, the Horn of Africa and in the Great Lakes region.
Russia attaches much importance to strengthening its ties with regional and subregional African organisations, primarily the African Union. I plan to have a meeting with Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat as part of the implementation of the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the African Union Commission on the Establishment of a Mechanism for Bilateral Consultations. We will discuss Russia-AU relations and the African Union’s role in finding the best possible solutions to the numerous challenges and threats that are facing the world.
Question: What is the present state of Russian-African relations across the political, diplomatic, economic and cultural spheres? Are you satisfied with the situation?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said, Russia’s relations with African countries are traditionally friendly and based on the principles of equality and mutual respect. They also have considerable potential for development in the political, trade, economic, and humanitarian spheres, as well as other areas.
Our political ties in particular are developing dynamically. We maintain close relations with South Africa, which is our strategic partner and a member of the BRICS group. Our presidents regularly meet on the sidelines of BRICS summits and at other multilateral platforms.
Chair of the African Union and President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Conde made an official visit to Russia last year. Mr Conde previously visited Russia as a guest of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev made working visits to Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Ties are actively developing between our parliaments. Large delegations from many African countries attended the 137th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was held in St Petersburg in October 2017. The speakers of the two houses of the Russian parliament met on the sidelines of that event for talks with their colleagues from Botswana, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa.
Interaction between our foreign ministries is expanding. Last year, 12 foreign ministers visited Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov is doing much to promote links with African countries. Regular consultations are held between our foreign ministries. We also maintain close ties at the UN. I am pleased to say that the majority of African countries are interested in strengthening political dialogue with Russia and in coordinating our views on the main issues of the present time.
We are deepening humanitarian ties. The Russian Centres for Science and Culture are working fruitfully in Zambia, Congo, Tanzania and Ethiopia. They hold seminars, conferences and advanced training sessions for African specialists in Russian philology, Russian language festivals, roundtables and open lessons. Our embassies in Africa regularly organise themed exhibitions and show Russian films. A cross-cultural year was held between Russia and South Africa in 2016−2017.
Another traditional area of cooperation is the training of national personnel. The Russian Government annually allocates federal scholarships for the training of African students at Russian universities. In 2017 alone, more than 1,800 African young people studied in Russia on federal scholarships. Overall, 15,000 young people from Africa are studying in Russia, including some 4,000 at state-financed departments and the rest under contracts.
Our economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties. However, it has improved over the past few years. Our trade with Sub-Saharan countries amounted to $3.6 billion in 2017, compared to $3.3 billion in 2016 and $2.2 billion in 2015. Russian companies are working in the exploration, mining, energy and petrochemical sectors in Africa. They conduct exploration, develop oil and gas deposits, take part in national programmes to build gas pipelines and gas storage facilities, provide technical maintenance for hydroelectric power stations, as well as carry out feasibility studies for the construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear research and technology centres. Cooperation in high technology is also developing. There are good prospects for partnership in transport, industry and agriculture.
We believe that we should promote joint activity in order to make broader use of the huge potential of Russian-African trade and investment cooperation.
Question: Africa is a huge continent that still requires economic development. Its active demographic growth and abundance of natural resources are creating conditions for the emergence of probably the world’s biggest market in the next few decades. Russia is an advanced industrial country with a relatively small population and considerable natural resources. How should Russia and Africa develop mutually beneficial economic ties? What economic branches, or to be more precise, what goods and services can make up a foundation for such relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already partially answered this question. Africa is rich in raw material resources, including those that are required for high technology and for moving to a new technological pattern.
We have a number of examples of productive cooperation in this area. Alrosa is involved in diamond mining in Angola’s largest Katoka deposit. In Guinea, RUSAL is mining bauxite at the Friguia deposit and works under the Dian-Dian concession agreement. RUSAL owns 85 percent of Alscon, a Nigerian aluminium company. A consortium of a number of our companies, including the Vi Holding investment and industrial group is developing Darwendale, a project on one of the largest deposits of platinum-group metals in Zimbabwe. Rosneft has won a tender for gas prospecting on the continental shelf in Mozambique. Nordgold is mining gold in Burkina Faso and Guinea, while Global Resources is involved in geological prospecting for gold in Mali and uranium in Niger. GeoProMining is involved in extracting and processing of titaniferous sands in Guinea-Bissau, RENOVA is mining manganese ore in South Africa, while Severstal is taking part in developing a phosphate deposit in Guinea-Bissau. These and other examples allow us to look to the future with optimism.
Apart from mining, Russia and African countries are cooperating on high technology. Rosatom is considering a number of projects that are of interest to Africans, for instance the creation of a nuclear research and technology centre in Zambia. Nigeria has a similar project. There are good prospects for cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Talks are underway on the construction of a nuclear power plant in South Africa.
Again, we will do our best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation.
Question: Many African states favour general UN reform. They are particularly enthusiastic about the expansion of the UN Security Council and want to have two permanent seats there. Do you know about this? What is Russia’s attitude to this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: Naturally, we are well aware of Africa’s consolidated position on reforming the UN Security Council, which was formulated in the Ezulwini Consensus in 2005.
For our part we agree that Africa should be duly represented in the UN Security Council, in particular because African issues dominate the UN agenda. We are prepared to help Africans expand the Council based on a model that will enjoy the most support of the UN member states.
We hope the African Union will continue adhering to the common approach formulated in the Ezulwini Consensus. This is a reliable guarantee that African interests will not be neglected as has happened in the past. It is impossible to ignore the common opinion of 50 countries. We are convinced that Africa’s strength lies in following this common line.
We conduct trustworthy bilateral dialogue with African countries at the UN and bilaterally. Thus, Sierra Leone Foreign Minister Samura Kamara visited Moscow in July 2017 as the Chairman of the African Union Committee of Ten, which was established to promote African interests in expanding the UN Security Council. The sides conducted an engaging exchange of views and stated their common understanding that the Security Council can only be reformed through intergovernmental talks in New York. It should be continued on all available proposals without commotion, artificial narrowing of the agenda or a fixation on temporary schedules and deadlines.
We believe the Security Council should become more representative but without damaging its efficiency. The lineup must reflect the formation and consolidation of a polycentric world arrangement.
At the same time we are skeptical about restricting the right to veto. We regard this right as an important element in drafting the Security Council’s decisions and in upholding the interests of the minority.
Question: The letter R in BRICS stands for Russia, and the letter S for South Africa. The establishment of BRICS and the BRICS Development Bank became for many Africans a source of hope for a more favourable alternative to the imperialist, oppressive and predatory policies of western countries and such institutions under their control as the IMF and the World Bank. The hope was not borne out. And many Africans feel disappointed. As a foreign minister of one of the leading BRICS nations, what could you say to Africans to sustain their belief in the opportunities afforded by BRICS?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot agree with such a view of BRICS activities. On the contrary, international interest in the association is growing. We see it at the summit meetings which attract increased attention of the media and experts, and at dozens of meetings of the foreign ministers and agency heads, at forums of representatives of civil society, the scientific community, and figures from the worlds of culture and sport. The decisions worked out by the Five go well beyond intra-BRICS cooperation, projecting into the most diverse political and economic international platforms.
Interaction within the Five is an important element in shaping a fairer and more democratic polycentric world system, a clear example of improving the multilateral, collective foundations of world affairs. Our strategic partnership is unfolding on the principles of equality and solidarity, mutual respect and strict consideration of each other’s interests, openness and mutually beneficial cooperation, the primacy of international law and the UN Charter. These principles are shared by the majority of the world’s nations, including on the African continent. With that in mind we do not set ourselves in opposition to other associations or forums. BRICS is always ‘for,’ not ‘against.’
The Republic of South Africa took over the helm of BRICS this year. Figuratively speaking, the association is coming back to Africa. Our countries have never shied away from the continent’s problems – they receive due attention at the summits and other high-level meetings of the Five. It is symbolic that the RSA’s chairmanship coincides with the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, the wise Madiba who stood up for the same principle as our association does.
I note with satisfaction that our South African friends are going to fill the BRICS agenda with African issues, to discuss the continent’s key challenges and problems. We, for our part, welcome these intentions. We support deepening the BRICS-Africa dialogue which was started in Durban in 2013 during a meeting with the African Union leadership and the heads of eight leading regional integration associations. This year’s chairman also plans to invite Africans to the tenth BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
The BRICS – African Union dialogue is not limited to the RSA’s chairmanship. Guinea as chair of the African Union took part in the meeting of the BRICS leaders with heads of invited states at the 2017 Summit in Xiamen. I think that the BRICS Plus Concept adopted last year lays a foundation for inviting African Union chairing nations, and maybe the leaders of other African regional organisations, to BRICS summits on a regular basis.
The BRICS countries are major investors in the African economy. We note with satisfaction the growth of African countries’ interest in deepening practical cooperation with the Five. The New Development Bank mentioned here offers additional opportunities for that. This financial institution – along with BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement – is set to create a more just global economic architecture.
The Bank is in its fledging phase now. We expect that it will be able to operate not only in the RSA but also in other countries of the continent, including with the help of the NDB’s African Regional Centre set up last August.
The five countries’ relations with the continent are not confined to economics and finance. Tens of thousands of African students study in the BRICS countries. The BRICS countries play an important role in peacekeeping efforts in Africa.
Question: The Fifth African Union – European Union Summit was held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoir, in November 2017. African countries have regular summits with China, India, Turkey and other countries, and there are also regular meetings of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development which is in fact a Japan-Africa summit. Why do they not have Russia-Africa format summits? Wouldn’t they benefit both Russia and Africa?
Sergey Lavrov: We carefully study the practice of summits between African countries and their major partners abroad.
At present, Russia’s relations with African countries are progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. As I have already noted, an intensive political dialogue is being maintained with the continent’s countries, interparliamentary contacts are gaining strength, trade and economic and investment relations are improving, and scientific, technological and humanitarian interaction is expanding. African countries’ representatives are active participants in international forums hosted by Russia.
A dialogue launched between the African Union Commission and the Eurasian Economic Union Commission has become a new area of cooperation. We hope it will deepen.
Our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express their interest in holding a Russia-Africa summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content.
The economic component of the summit has a special significance in this relation as it would be of practical interest for all the parties. As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important are African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market.
Definitely, time is needed to solve all those issues. We could start with experts’ meetings, say, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum, and other events where business leaders of our countries participate.