Interview of Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Botswana Victor I.Sibilev to Botswana Guardian, June 1, 2018
Russia, Botswana discuss visa-free travel
Botswana must open an Embassy in Moscow to expand frontiers of cooperation
‘There are broad prospects’ for bilateral cooperation through the Joint-Stock Company, ‘Alrosa’
Russia’s growing military power is a reliable guarantee of peace on the planet – Vladimir Putin
Russia-Botswana bilateral cooperation could be enhanced if Botswana were to open an Embassy in Moscow, says Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Botswana, His Excellency Victor Ivanovich Sibilev.
Currently, Lameck Nthekela is the Ambassador accredited in the Russian Federation, but he resides permanently in Stockholm, Sweden. Such an arrangement poses serious challenges, chief among which is the limits to the extent to which economic diplomacy can be pursued.
In an interview with Botswana Guardian ahead of Russia Day, which falls on June 12 every year, Ambassador Sibilev pointed out that whilst the Embassy of what used to be known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was opened in Botswana in August 1976, to date Botswana has not reciprocated.
Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Gaeimelwe Goitsemang conceded on this point, saying Botswana’s representation abroad is limited with only 22 missions at present. “However, we plan to open one mission this year in Europe,” he said without naming the country.
As for Russia, Goitsemang said Botswana regards the eastern European military and economic powerhouse as a “strategic partner,” and that “funds permitting we would open a mission there”, but could not readily say when. “It’s a question of balancing competing interests, our focus at home is job creation,” he said, adding however that we cannot fail to appreciate the value of foreign missions as agents of foreign direct investment.
Ambassador Sibilev is nonetheless optimistic. He said both sides are consistently developing their political dialogue, promoting inter parliamentary contacts and expanding cooperation between the ministries in order to set up mutually beneficial ties in the areas of trade, economic, humanitarian and other spheres.
He said that both countries are currently working on several Memoranda of Understanding and Agreements which will facilitate and contribute to “Our cooperation” in the fields of healthcare, environmental protection, visa free regime and others to expand the frontiers of friendship.
Already there are tangible and discernible benefits accruing from Russia-Botswana diplomatic ties. Ambassador Sibilev points out that Russia is engaged in training of Botswana specialists in different areas, including mining, engineering, medicine, IT and others under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by then Minister for Basic Education, Unity Dow in Moscow in June 2016.
Under this MoU between the ministries of higher education, the quota of the Russian government scholarships annually allocated to Botswana students has been increased to 30, five slots of them were allocated for medical specialties. Currently, Ambassador Sibilev said there were around 300 Botswana students studying at Russian universities both on state sponsored and commercial basis.
Russia also supports Botswana Police Service mainly through provision of sponsorship for short-term skills development courses and programmes of higher education. But as for strategic Russian investments in Botswana and the SADC region, Ambassador Sibilev admitted that there is yet a large potential to be realised.
He said that given the leading positions of Russia and Botswana in the extraction and production of diamonds (which amounts to 54 percent of the world production), “there are broad prospects” for bilateral cooperation through the Joint-Stock Company, “Alrosa”.
Ambassador Sibilev is of the firm opinion that a “large state corporation “Rostec” can be considered one of the perspective investment partners in such areas of engineering, IT, biotechnologies, and others”. He said that the “scarce presence of Russian investors” in Botswana can probably be explained by factors such as “shortage of information, lack of convenient transportation and established patterns and networks of interaction” between the two countries.
Russian companies hardly have a presence in Botswana except for several Russian origin private entrepreneurs in the IT, trade, tourism and service businesses. Ambassador Sibilev said it is necessary to raise awareness among Russian business people about investment opportunities in Botswana and enhance interest to the local market. “Here we remain hopeful that our local partners will actively be engaged in this process in terms of sharing information and fostering direct links between the private sector of Russia and Botswana”.
Foreign trade turnover of Russia and Botswana as measured by the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation amounted to $18, 7 million. In the stricture of Russian exports, 99, 3 percent of supplies fell on the commodity group “pearls, precious stones, metals”, which are mainly rough diamonds. The structure of Russian imports from Botswana in 2017 was also formed by commodity groups “pearls, precious stones, metals” (98,1 percent of total imports) and “machinery, equipment and vehicles” (1, 9 percent).
To expand trade, economic and investment relations between the two countries, Ambassador Sibilev said both need to be proactive in organising different business forums, exchange of delegations, including experts as well as facilitate contacts. between business people. And in Sibilev s opinion, this responsibility falls within the purview of both the Chamber of Trade and Industry of Russia and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC).
He said that the last bilateral business forum was held in Gaborone in November 2015. But to show how important business forums are, Sibilev said they formed part of the agenda during the recent political consultations in the Russian Foreign Ministry. “Given the interest on the part of Botswana we are ready to develop our cooperation in agribusiness, healthcare, energy, mining and other spheres,” said the Ambassador.
He expressed confidence that “additional opportunities” for business interaction will emerge after signing an Agreement on visa-free travel between Russia and Botswana, which is currently being jointly prepared”. But considering the leading positions of Russia and Botswana in the field of diamond mining and production, Sibilev said there are “wide prospects” for bilateral co-operation along the lines of AK “Alrosa” The Russian company, within the framework of a joint venture with a British diamond mining company and Botswana Diamonds, carries out geological prospecting in the Orapa field.
In 2016, work started on new promising sites in the Gope region. In total, the Russian company has the licenses of the Government of Botswana to conduct joint prospecting works at four sites in order to identify valuable stone beds and their development by 2020.
The Russian Envoy is also not particularly pleased with the level of trade between Russia and Africa especially SADC countries. “Our economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties,” he posited. However, there has been a gradual increase over the years. For example, Russia’s 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. However, Sibilev is optimistic that this situation can change for the better.
Russia officially joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – the organisation that lays a solid legal basis for the development of member countries – in 2012 and is also a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union, which was established in 2014 to create an integrated single market of 183 million people with a gross domestic product of over 4 trillion US dollars.
Botswana is a member of WTO, SADC and SACU and in the era of globalisation that dictates the modern economy, Ambassador Sibilev believes that the world should expect the growth of middle-income countries that are rapidly industrialising. Botswana may feature prominently in this category if SADC’s industrialisation strategy could find the proper impetus within the framework of SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan.
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 hydro-electric power stations as well as carry out feasibility studies for the construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear research and technology centres. Ambassador Sibilev said that cooperation in high technology is also developing in Africa.
To prove this, Sibilev said that 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 also has a similar project. There are good prospects for partnership with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia, he said, adding that “talks are underway on the construction of a nuclear power plant in South Africa”. The Ambassador said they would do their best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation.
He said there are also good prospects for partnership in transport, industry and agriculture. To buttress the point, Ambassador Sibilev cites the example of Alrosa, which is involved in diamond mining in Angola’s largest Katoka deposit. “A consortium of a number of our companies, including Vi Holding Investment and Industrial Group is also developing Darwendale, a project on one of the largest deposits of platinum-group metals in Zimbabwe”. In addition, Rosneft has won a tender for gas prospecting on the continental shelf in Mozambique, he said, while RENOVA is mining manganese ore in South Africa. He said these and other examples allow them to look at the future with optimism.
On the political front, Russia or Botswana relations enjoy a flourish. This is attested to by the high-level visit undertaken last year by then deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thuso Ramodimoosi to Moscow for inter ministerial consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Special Presidential Envoy for Middle East and African countries, Mikhail Bogdanov.
Both sides were in one accord during their discussions that the United Nations should play a greater role in world affairs and that the international community must consolidate their efforts against terrorism and other modern challenges. Other engagements included Botswana’s participation in international events in Russia last year, most notable the 8th International Meeting of High Representatives responsible for Security Issues (May 24/25); International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2017” (August 22-27); the Moscow Olympiad of Megapolises (September 4-9).
There were also the International Ministerial Meeting of the Heads of Government Bodies and Agencies responsible for youth policy (October 12-13); Assembly of Inter-Parliamentary Union (October 14-18); the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students (October 14-22); the first global ministerial conference “Ending tuberculosis in the SDG era: A multisectoral response” (November 16-17).
The two countries’ cooperation is underpinned by varied agreements among them the Trade Agreement of 1987 and the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation of 1988. In September 1999 the governments of the Russian Federation and Botswana signed the Agreement ? Cultural, Scientific and Educational Cooperation and on December 17, 2002 the Protocol on Political Consultations between the ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries. There is also the Convention between the two governments for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income, which was signed on April 8, 2003.
In February 10, 2005 the Agreement between the Governments of the Russian Federation and Botswana on Visa Free Travels on Diplomatic and Service Passports was signed. Asked about Russia’s development of latest hi-tech nuclear weapons and whether this was not stoking fears of Nuclear Arms Race and turning the clock back to the Cold War Era, Ambassador Sibilev was emphatic:
“The world has completely changed and Russia has changed too. These are challenging times for Russia. The current state of affairs results from unilateral actions by a number of Western countries, and primarily the US, who is clearly losing its global dominance and seeks to reverse the emergence of a fair, polycentric system of international relations”. In his estimation, it seems that some Western political elites don’t like it when Russia conducts an independent foreign policy, while also succeeding on the domestic front and ensuring its sovereignty.
“This is why they want to punish us and restrain Russia’s development by imposing unilateral sanction s and creating a negative image of the Russia state in media”. Equally, Sibilev reckons this cannot be referred to as Cold War 2.0 because the original Cold War pitted two ideological systems and socioeconomic and government models opposed to each other in an all-out military and political standoff. “Today the ideological struggle that used to divide the whole world into two camps has become a thing of the past. We no longer wish to spend huge resources to go to a confrontation fraught with nuclear catastrophe, just to please ideological reasons”, he said.
As for the arms race, he quoted President Vladimir Putin who recently remarked that the arms race began when the United States withdrew from the Anti-Missile Defense (AMD) Treaty. And in his last message to the Federal Assembly, Putin announced the development and testing of the latest strategic weapons systems, created in response to “Washington’s unilateral and unfriendly move. The head of state stressed that Russia’s growing military power is a reliable guarantee of peace on the planet, and all activities to strengthen the country’s defense capacity were carried out with the framework of existing agreements in the field of arms control.