Closing the Gap between Moscow and Gaborone Interview with Ambassador V.Sibilev, Mmegi newpaper, February 16, 2017
Interview with Ambassador V.Sibilev, Mmegi newpaper
1. Kindly describe the state of relations between Botswana and Russia in terms of trade agreements, bilateral cooperation and history.
Diplomatic relations between Russia and Botswana were established in 1970 after the exchange of notes between the Embassy of the Soviet Union and the High Commission of Botswana in London. Six years later the Soviet Embassy was established in Gaborone to become one of the few foreign diplomatic missions in Botswana at the time. Over time, our bilateral ties have become more solid and diverse, which entail new tasks for our governments and for the Embassy.
At present we have eight bilateral documents, including the Trade Agreement of 1987 and the Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation of 2003. There is also a separate intergovernmental Agreement on Cultural, Scientific and Educational Cooperation of 1999 and Protocol on Political Consultations signed between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in 2002. The last round of consultations took place in March 2015 in Gaborone; the next one is planned for 2017 in Moscow. Russia and Botswana are working on a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministries of Health of the two countries. The parties are now coordinating positions on the final draft of the MoU so that it can be signed in the short term. There is also a draft MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection between the relevant Ministries, which is now being scrutinized by the stakeholders.
2-3. What areas would you like to see in these relations? Do Russian entities have any investment interest in Botswana? If so, in which sectors are these?
Russia-Botswana relations are traditionally friendly. We have a number of areas of cooperation, some of which, however, are yet to be developed.
To begin with, there is no Botswana Embassy in Russia. The Ambassador accredited in the Russian Federation permanently resides in Stockholm, Sweden. Opening of a Botswana Embassy in Moscow would be a major step towards enhancing bilateral cooperation, especially due to the fact that over 300 Botswana nationals currently stay in Russia. These are mostly students who are studying at Russian universities. Some of them are admitted under the program of Government scholarships. In June last year, the MoU between the Ministries of Education of Russia and Botswana was signed providing for the extension of annual scholarship quota up to 30 people. One way or another, according to our partners in the Ministry of International Affairs, there are indeed plans to open a High Commission in Russia.
Economic cooperation between Russian and Botswana business sectors is still lagging behind. The scarce presence of Russian investors in the country can probably be explained by factors such as shortage of information, lack of convenient transportation and established patterns of interaction between the two countries. However there are a lot of large companies in Russia that specialize in such sectors such as mining, infrastructure development, commercial and retail banking, tourism. The Embassy makes efforts to enhance ties between private businesses of the two countries. We have provided relevant information to a number of companies that were studying the possibility of investing into the local economy. Together with Botswana Investment and Trade Centre we organized a Russia-Botswana business forum in November 2015, which gathered representatives of seven Russian companies, including such majors as Alrosa, Gazprombank and Rostec (Russian Technologies). The regional Representative of Rostec has later visited Gaborone and presented some investment proposals to relevant authorities in such spheres as aviation engineering, electronics, pharmaceutics, and information security.
Last March, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism of Botswana Tshekedi Khama was in Moscow to take part in the international exhibition “Travel and Tourism”. During his visit, he met with 10 Russian tour operators that expressed interest in Botswana tourism potential.
4. Russia is the world’s largest producer of diamonds by volume, as well as nickel. Are there any opportunities for partnership of collaboration in this regard?
As you well know, for a number of years the main private Russian investor in Botswana was Norilsk Nickel, which used to be a majority holder of Tati Nickel Mining Company. In 2014 Norilsk struck a deal with BCL to sell its assets in TNMC and Nkomati mine in South Africa to BCL. With the BCL liquidation process, the transaction has not been completed, which compelled Norilsk Nickel to take legal action. We regard this as the dispute between business entities. Nevertheless, there are factors conducive to cooperation between Norilsk Nickel and Botswana, such as established value chains and technological expertise in nickel extraction possessed by the Russian company. Besides Norilsk left some legacy in the country, namely the refurbishment of a cantonment in Francistown and the donation of a telemedicine complex Tobol designed to bring medical services to remote and scarcely populated areas.
Given the leading positions of Russia and Botswana in the extraction and production of diamonds, which account together for more than 50 % of global diamond output, there are broad prospects for bilateral cooperation through the Joint-Stock Company Alrosa. The Russian corporation has been working with the British diamond company «Botswana Diamonds» through a joint venture for the third year now. According to the partnership agreement, Alrosa is conducting extensive diamond exploration in Orapa and Gope areas, with ground samples showing good prospects for boring. Alrosa obtained a license from the Government of Botswana for exploration works in new districts up to September, 2018.
Alrosa is constantly working on increasing operational efficiency through the use of new diamond extraction technologies, developing low-grade deposits and underground mining at deeper levels. Exploring for new deposits in Botswana and Angola, Alrosa employs technologies that have proven themselves in the far northern region of Yakutia but have never been used in Africa yet.
5. In what way can trade between Russia and Botswana be boosted?
Speaking about commercial ties between Russia and Botswana, one has to admit that there is yet a large potential to be realized. Russia supplies to Botswana mainly industrial equipment, television cameras and other devices. At the same time, the volume of imports from Botswana to Russia is very small. Nevertheless, this situation can change for the better. In 2012 Russia officially joined the World Trade Organization, which lays a solid legal basis for the development of trade of Russia with foreign countries including Botswana. Botswana is a member of integration blocs, namely SADC and SACU, while Russia is a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union, which was established in 2014 to create an integrated single market of 183 million people and a gross domestic product of over 4 trillion U.S. dollars. Given the globalization trends prevailing in the modern economy, we should expect the growth of commercial ties between countries, especially middle-income countries that are rapidly industrializing.
6. Today’s world is dominated by a few geopolitical powers, being US, Russia and China. What is your opinion on how a country like Botswana can properly align itself to secure its best interests?
As is known, the Russian Federation advocates for a polycentric world order based on international law, respect for sovereignty of states and central role of the United Nations. In our opinion, Botswana continues to be an active player on diverse issues at national, regional and multilateral fora. We note the important role Botswana is playing at the UN Human Rights Council and the cooperation between our two countries in this organ as well as other UN institutions. We are aware of Botswana’s efforts in settling crises on the African continent, especially those of the third President Festus Mogae, Chairman of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in South Sudan, and of the second President Sir Ketumile Masire, who facilitated negotiations between the Government of Mozambique and RENAMO movement. Since April 2016, Botswana has been a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council.
Thus, we see that Botswana, as a sovereign state, is fulfilling its right to pursue national interest abroad, which we fully support and respect. It is clear that Botswana is seeking to make the region safer and promote the values of democracy and human rights. Russia, on its part, is ready to cooperate with all international community, including Botswana, to fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and other global challenges facing humanity.
7. What is Russia’s approach to relations with Africa in general and Botswana in particular?
Unlike many Western countries, Russia has never been a colonial power. On the contrary, our country helped African nations defend their independence. The Soviet Union exerted its influence in Africa mostly in the political and ideological sphere and through developmental and military aid. Thousands of talented African youth were invited to study in Soviet universities. At that time quite a number of African states chose the non-capitalist way of development.
Although the socialist ideology has gone to the past, Russia tends to preserve its former approach towards Africa. We truly support the principle “African solutions to African problems” promoted by the African community. We are in favour of consolidated and realistic African position not only in relation to the UN reform, but to the whole range of issues on the African agenda. It is important, from the Russian perspective, that all non-permanent African members of the UN Security Council follow a coherent policy. And of course, Russia continues to provide developmental aid both through UN agencies and on bilateral basis. For example, our country made a large contribution to the suppression of Ebola epidemic in West Africa by developing two highly effective vaccines against the virus.
We shall continue cooperation with Botswana using the existing legal base and promoting political dialogue, including regular political consultations between the Foreign Ministries and inter-parliamentary ties. Russia welcomes the guiding principles of Botswana foreign policy such as democracy, development, self-reliance, unity, good neighbourliness, peaceful resolution of conflicts, territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations.