Sibilev reflects on global, domestic issues on Russia Day
Mmegi interviews Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Botswana, Victor I. Sibilev on the occasion of Russia Day, which will be celebrated on Monday, June 12
Russia Day is the rather young national holiday of the Russian Federation, which has been celebrated since 2002. Russia is the largest country in the world with its territory covering 17.1 mln. square km. It is situated both in Europe and Asia and has 11 time zones. Today the country is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, member of G20, BRICS, OSCE, SCO and Eurasian Union. It is the world top producer of diamonds and cereals and one of the leaders in oil and gas production, well known by its space industry, atomic energy and sophisticated armaments manufacturing.
According to the forecast of Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development, the GDP is expected to grow bytwo percent in 2017 and reach global average increase in subsequent years with the inflation rate of four percent. Economic diversification and developing import substitution industries are the main tasks for the foreseeable future. Russia is the sixth biggest economy in the world. According to the IMF Director Christine Lagarde, Russia has managed to invent adequate anti-crisis management due to global fall of oil prices.
The country is famous for its literature, arts and culture, which is known all over the world. Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the Republic of Botswana were established in March 1970 after the exchange of notes between the Embassy of the Soviet Union and the High Commission of Botswana in London, which was then headed by Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe. In August 1976, the Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic in the Republic of Botswana was officially opened to become one of the few foreign diplomatic missions in Gaborone at the time.
Can you describe in short the approach of the Russian Federation to solving the key international issues?
Sibilev: A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the states and their associations in order to address common challenges. Such an interaction should include all the colours of the modern world, and be based on its cultural and civilisational diversity, as well as reflect the interests of the international community’s key components.
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. The main characteristic feature of the current international relations is deep shifts in geopolitical landscape, triggered by previous global financial and economic crisis.
International relations are undergoing a transitional period with a new polycentric international system emerging. When it comes to Africa, we stick to the principle “African problems – African solutions”.
What threats and challenges do you consider the most serious for the peaceful development of the modern world?
Sibilev: Last year the world did not see any reduction in threats. We are referring above all to the threat of international terrorism, which has affected residents of Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and UK), the Middle East, Asia, USA (Boston marathon) and Canada.
In this context, the emphasis should be placed on preventing terrorism, countering the spread of ideology of extremism and violence, the use of information space including the Internet to these ends. “Islamic State”, the Al-Nusrah Front and other terrorist groups have long been growing in the Middle East.
They have acquired additional opportunities for their criminal activity due to the weakening of state institutions and the support of various foreign sponsors. Having grown stronger, extremist groups are threatening the future of whole nations, as evidenced by the example of Iraq, Libya and Syria. Russia has consistently advocated closer international cooperation to cut short all kinds of terrorism and to renounce dual standards and the division of terrorists into “good” and “bad.”
All states must faithfully implement the decisions of the UN Security Council that provide for preventing the instigation of terrorism, approve sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and impose an arms embargo on war-torn countries. Speaking at the 70th UN General Assembly in September 2015, President Vladimir Putin urged the international community to form a united universal antiterrorist coalition with a global scope.
Recently there has been some progress in negotiations between the Syrian government and main opposition forces during Astana talks (Kazakhstan) initiated by Russia, Turkey and Iran with the participation of the UN Special Envoy S. de Mistura. By now four zones of de-escalation have been established, and over 1500 Syrian settlements joined the reconciliation process. We hope it will bring long-awaited results.
As you know, Russia, deployed its aerospace forces in Syria to stabilise the situation in the country at the request of the legitimate Syrian government, unlike the US-led coalition acting on its own. Russian forces are fighting ISIS and together with the Syrian army they liberated the cities of Aleppo and Palmira. In the Russian opinion, apart from the threat of expanding NATO to the east, serious danger to Russia’s borders is the conflict in Ukraine.
Through its assistance to the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements of February 12, 2015, Russia reaffirms its substantial and meaningful contribution to the settlement of the Ukrainian internal crisis, putting an end to violence in the south-east of the country and solving the dire humanitarian situation, caused by the current Kiev authorities. A long-term settlement may only be achieved through direct political dialogue between the parties to the conflict, taking into account the legitimate demands of all Ukrainian regions, language and ethno-confessional groups at the constitutional level.
We support the central role of the OSCE in promoting the conflict settlement. Regarding the issue of Crimea, it should be mentioned that the separation of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent reunification with Russia on the basis of referendum in March 2014, which took place in extreme conditions when it was impossible to realize the right to self-determination within the framework of Ukraine but in accordance with the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States of 1970.
Having overthrown the legally elected president, the nationalist forces in Kiev under the auspices by their Western sponsors did not represent the whole population of the country and were unable to provide the rule of law.
96.8 of those who came to polling stations in Crimea voted for independence. It should be noted that media play an important role in shaping public opinion on key international problems and processes. Regrettably, leading Western news agencies are prone to subjectivity and often present developments in hot spots in a politicised and biased way.
This does not contribute to conflict resolution but rather plants seeds of dissent. Along with the coverage of current events, the Russian Federation is consistently stating that it is inadmissible to distort history and to revise the outcomes of the Second World War. As is well known, the Soviet Union suffered the most losses totaling 27 million. people.
The Red Army made a decisive contribution to the defeat of the Nazi Germany, liberation of Europe and also smashed the Japanese army in Manchuria. After more than 70 years, Russia still urges the international community to remember the lessons of the WW2 and oppose glorification of Nazism, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Russia has always advocated for the consolidation of efforts to fight all kinds of security threats – not only armed conflicts but also humanitarian disasters, climate change, HIV and other epidemics, etc.
Botswana is traditionally seen as close to the US and the UK. How does Russia hope to carve a closer political, economic and social relationship with Botswana in that context?
Sibilev: It is up to a country to position itself in the regional and global setting, which does not exclude partnership relations with other international players. We base our foreign policy upon pragmatism stemming from core interests of the Russian Federation.
They remain unchanged and aimed at ensuring that our country does well, that the well-being of our people improves, and that our economy and social sector develop steadily in an atmosphere of security and under the most favourable external circumstances possible based on overlapping interests without exception.
Since the recognition of the Republic of Botswana by the Soviet Union on September 30, 1966 and the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1970, the two countries have developed substantial legal framework of relations. These are Trade Agreement of 1987, Agreement on Technical and Economic Cooperation of 1988, and a separate intergovernmental Agreement on Cultural, Scientific and Educational cooperation of 1999. In 2002 Protocol on Political Consultations was signed that launched a mechanism of annual consultations between senior Foreign Ministry and government officials of the two countries.
his year in May deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, Thuso Ramodimoosi visited Moscow to hold inter-ministerial consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Special Presidential Envoy for Middle East and African countries, Mikhail Bogdanov.
In addition to the mentioned documents, together with our Botswana partners we have developed several Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) and Agreements which facilitate and contribute to our cooperation in the fields of education, healthcare, environmental protection, visa-free regime and others. Russia engages in training Botswana specialists, including such areas as law-enforcement, health and education.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Moscow in June 2016 by Minister Unity Dow, we have increased the quota of government scholarships annually allocated to Batswana up to 30. At present, around 300 Botswana students are studying at many Russian universities, both on state-sponsored and commercial basis.
What are Russia’s ambitions in terms of its trade and economic relationship with Africa and Botswana in particular?
Sibilev: Speaking about commercial ties between Russia and Botswana, one has to admit that there is yet a large potential to be realised. In 2012 Russia officially joined the World Trade Organization to become its 156th member (in a chronological order).
This lays a solid legal basis for the development of trade of Russia with foreign countries including Botswana. Both countries are open to the outside world and consistently follow the path of integration.
Given the leading positions of Russia and Botswana in the extraction and production of diamonds (54% of the world production), 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] within a joint venture for the third year now.
A large state corporation Rostec can be considered one of the perspective investment partners in such areas as engineering, IT, biotechnologies, etc. 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.
Obviously, 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 engage in this process in terms of sharing information and fostering direct links between the private sector of Russia and Botswana.
To expand trade, economic and investment relations, we should be more proactive in organising different business forums, exchange of delegations, including experts, facilitate contacts between business people. Chamber of Trade and Industry of Russia and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre could actively engage in arranging such activities.
Last time bilateral business forum was held in Gaborone in November 2015. The need for business forums was mentioned 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.
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.
Apart from political agenda, there is very little information about Russia in this country. How to learn more about life in Russia?
Sibilev: One of the best opportunities to get to know a country better is to visit this country. There are a lot of reasons: business, tourism, education, sport etc. The Russian Embassy in Botswana regularly informs government authorities about different events held in Russia and submits invitations to them. For example, this year the XXI St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) was held at Congress-exhibition center Expoforum, St. Petersburg on June 1-3. This is a leading international economic and business forum held annually in Russia under the patronage of the President of the Russian Federation attracting international and Russian participants, including government and business leaders. This year the Forum gathered 14 000 participants, including representatives of over 700 companies. To our regret, none of the invited Botswana officials attended this event so far.
In the sports sphere, Russia will host the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup from June 17 to July 2, as a prelude to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In accordance with Russian legislation, entry of foreign citizens as spectators of the FIFA Confederations Cup will be visa-free. The FIFA President Mr. Gianni Infantino recently visited Russia to assess readiness of newly built football infrastructure in 11 cities for the upcoming 2018 World Cup. Thousands of football fans around the world have already expressed their desire to be part of this event. All foreign guests and fans will be granted visa-free access to the competitions.
Moscow City Government invited Botswana school students to take part in the Moscow Olympiad of Metropolises to be held in September. Being in close contact with the Ministry of Basic Education, we hope that your representatives will participate.
Another significant event is the XIX World Festival of Youth and Students that will take place from the 15th till the 21st October 2017 in Sochi, Russia. It is assumed that the Festival will be attended by 20,000 young people, half of whom are foreign citizens, residents of more than 150 countries representing all continents of the world. We expect that Botswana youth delegation will be well presented there. All expenses related to the participation in the Festival except transportation costs will be covered by the Russian side.
On the other hand, Botswana public witnessed a series of ballet and vocal performances by Russian artists in Gaborone over recent years. We shall continue such cultural exchanges.
We strongly believe that diversity of cultures, sport, education and common interests unite people and contribute to the peace and stability in the world.