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On the spot: Exclusive interview with Russian ambassador

2019-12-06  Chrispin Inambao

On the spot: Exclusive interview with Russian ambassador

Interview with H.E. Mr Valeriy Utkin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Namibia. In light of the Sochi Summit hosted at the Black Sea Retreat of Sochi that was attended by President Hage Geingob, New Era editor Chrispin Inambao interviewed His Excellency Valeriy Utkin to reflect on the highly successful Summit in Russia.

CI: H.E. Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, hosted a successful two-day Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October that was attended by His Excellency Dr Hage Geingob, the president of the Republic of Namibia, are we likely to see improved bilateral cooperation between Namibia and Russia?

Utkin: “Thank you. The initiative to hold the first Russia-Africa Summit was put forward by His Excellency Vladimir Putin at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in July 2018. A variety of events took place in Moscow subsequently, such as the Social Forum «Russia-Africa» in October 2018, Economic Conference in June 2019 as part of a meeting of shareholders of the African Export-Import Bank, and a Parliamentary Conference in July 2019 on the sidelines of the Development of Parliamentarism International Forum. The first Russia-Africa Summit (Sochi, October 23-24, 2019) was attended by delegations of all 54 African states; out of them, 45 countries were represented by heads of state and government, as well as 7 regional organisations, including the African Union and the African Export-Import Bank, were represented by the heads of their executive bodies.

In Sochi, out of over 6 000 economic forum participants, more than 1 000 represented the African business community, and about 1 500 were Russian business executives. Official African delegations included around 2 000 members and 109 of them were government ministers. The forum was attended by more than 300 representatives of federal executive bodies of Russia, including two presidential envoys to Russia’s federal districts, eleven ministers and seven heads of Russian federal services and agencies.

During the Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi, Russia and African countries reaffirmed their great interest in the further development of interaction, deepening and intensification of Russian-African cooperation both at bilateral and multilateral levels. Sochi hosted more than 35 official events and over 1 500 meetings, with a huge package of bilateral documents signed on the sidelines, including more than 50 contracts worth 800 billion roubles (about US $12.5 billion). On the margins of the Summit, the Presidents of Russia and Namibia held bilateral negotiations, highly evaluated the long-standing relations of friendship between the two countries and discussed ways to further expand the trade and economic cooperation. It was noted that Russia and Namibia share common views on many processes under way at the international arena and maintain similar approaches to key issues of the global and regional agenda guided by respect to the basic principles of the international law, the central role of the UN and its Security Council in responding to global challenges. 

Russia and Namibia are committed to developing bilateral cooperation and have good prospects for joint efforts in various fields, including agriculture, mining, trade, tourism, education, healthcare, fisheries, as well as science and technology. Practical coordination of activities is vested into the Russian-Namibian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that has held its 8th Session in Windhoek in May and plays an important role in identifying cross points of mutual interests, facilitating subsequent practical steps and evaluating progress achieved. We focus this work on gaining practical results in intensifying joint efforts to explore the potential available in the economic field, including reaching agreements on Russian investments in export-oriented projects in Namibia in the field of agriculture and transport infrastructure.  There is also a number of other ventures offered by the Russian side in energy production, water desalination, ICT sphere etc., which are now under consideration of the Namibian side. I hope that at least some of them will be implemented.”

CI: Russia played a key role to train and arm many liberation movements in Africa – Namibia included – but it has not taken a pole position to assert its position as an economic partner of Africa when compared to U.S and China. Why is this so?

Utkin: “You are right, my country contributed a lot to the national liberation struggle of Africa, as well as to the post-colonial economic, social and political development of African nations. Many people in Africa remember it and highly appreciate it. At the same time, when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, we had to focus our attention on numerous internal problems. The 1990s were a very difficult period for Russia in terms of economic and political challenges. However, we have recovered and now continue to consolidate relations with African friends. 

Today, Russia’s cooperation with African countries is based on the solid fundament of equality and mutual respect, and it is one of our priorities, as stipulates the updated Russian Foreign Policy Concept approved by President Vladimir Putin in 2016.       

Indeed, the interest in developing relations with African countries is currently displayed by quite a number of states in Europe, by the USA, China, India, Turkey, the Gulf States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel and Brazil. This is not accidental as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and obvious economic attractiveness. Africa’s population is rapidly growing, and the domestic market is expanding. I wish to underline that Russia is dedicated to developing equal and mutually beneficial partnership with Africa in full compliance with the international law. We have a lot to offer to our African friends in many vital areas. Nowadays, over 30 major Russian companies are engaged in the mining sector, and even more – in trade, banking, infrastructural development etc. in Africa.

Recently, Russia has joined the African Export – Import Bank, and we hope that this will help to promote further our cooperation.

So, Russia is on the path of expanding relations with Africa. Here, we do not aim at attaining ‘the pole position’ but rather at achieving effective, constructive and fruitful ties.”
CI: Are we likely to see a change in Russia’s economic and political role in African countries after the Summit in Sochi?   

Utkin: “It`s too early to talk about practical results. However, the Russia-Africa Summit adopted a Joint Declaration, which outlines the common vision of our cooperation and principles to follow. Actually, the mutual trade between Russia and Africa has doubled over the past five years, reaching over $20 billion, but, of course, this is not enough. The real potential of our trade, economic and investment cooperation is much bigger. Therefore, the Economic Forum, which was held in Sochi on the eve of the Summit, had 31 panel discussions with the participation of heads of state, prime ministers, heads of regional organizations, ministers and representatives of business-circles. The subjects they deliberated on, included the development of trade and economic relations, existing and potential joint projects in the oil and gas sector and agribusiness, expansion of transport infrastructure, construction, and nuclear energy. Namibian delegation took part in the following panel discussions - ‘Current objectives in developing the housing construction market on the African Continent,’ and ‘Russia-African collaboration in the diamond industry.’   Let us work together to advance our cooperation forward. I believe that the Summit has provided a good opportunity for Russian-African ties to move up to a new level.”

CI: At Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for trade with African countries to double over the next four to five years. Are we likely to see more trade between Windhoek and Moscow and which areas of trade offer more potential to be exploited between our two countries? 

Utkin: “Yes, in his address to the Plenary Session of Russia-Africa Economic Forum, H.E. Vladimir Putin said that Russia-Africa trade more than doubled over the past five years and exceeded $20 billion, and suggested that this amount be increased twice in the coming years. In my opinion, such a goal is quite reachable because the economic capacities of both Russia and Africa allow it. By the way, the product range of mutual trade is expanding, and the share of non-resource – agricultural and industrial – products is increasing. Russia is among the top ten suppliers of food to the African market. As Russian Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev noted to journalists on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, ‘Africa is our target market and we will work on enlarging exports there.’ Integration processes under way in Africa can be viewed as one of the necessary prerequisites. We welcome the creation of African Continental Free Trade Area and wish to work with this new entity. Russia is also in favour of establishing close working contacts between the AU Commission and the Eurasian Economic Commission, which signed a Memorandum of understanding on the margins of the Summit in Sochi. 

My sincere desire is to witness growing trade turnover between Russia and Namibia, which has amounted to $14,9 million in 2018 as compared to $2 million in 2017, and the scope of which from January to September, 2019 reached $11,7 million. We continue working on expanding the volume of bilateral trade in agricultural products. Russia and Namibia line ministries exchange veterinary certificates and export-import requirements for beef, sheep and goat meat as well as for grains - wheat, rice, corn and barley. I do hope the supply of Namibian products to the Russian market as well as exports from Russia to Namibia will increase.” 

CI: Namibia is endowed with a lot of uranium and Russia has a lot of expertise in the construction of nuclear power stations. When will Russia help Namibia in the energy sector?

Utkin: “You are right again. For example, Russian State Corporation ‘ROSATOM’ is the only company in the world that offers to partners integrated clean energy solutions across the nuclear supply chain and beyond, including design, construction and operation of nuclear power stations, uranium mining, conversion and enrichment, supply of nuclear fuel, decommissioning, spent fuel storage and transportation and safe nuclear waste disposal. With its 70 years-long experience, the Company is the world leader in high-performance solutions for all kinds of nuclear power plants and is responsible for meeting Russia’s international commitments regarding peaceful uses of nuclear energy and nuclear non-proliferation. Russia is open for cooperation with Namibia in the uranium and energy spheres. Today ‘ROSATOM’ finalizes researches on uranium deposits in the East of Namibia. However, cooperation in the nuclear sphere is not limited to energy production only, but also has a number of non-energy dimensions in medicine, desalination and other. Therefore, we have good options to work on.”

CI: In terms of training and human resources development in which areas can Russia help Namibia?
Utkin: “You know, today over 400 Namibian students are studying in universities across Russia: from the city of Kaliningrad on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the city of Makhachkala in the Caucuses Mountains, to the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk in Siberia. For the academic year 2018/2019 the Namibian quota for higher education in Russia (bachelor degree) at the expense of the Russian Federal budget includes 33 scholarships. Last year more than 50 Namibians became students in Russia on federal scholarships or on private educational contracts. There are many ways to develop bilateral cooperation in the sphere of science and higher education – through joint researches, transfer of technologies, exchange of scientists and teachers, professionals and students, as well as exchange of scientific literature, periodicals and bibliographies. What is important is that Namibian students can choose any sphere of professional skills they wish to study in Russia.”

CI: Russia is an agriculture powerhouse. Are we likely to see Russian agronomic experts dispatched to Namibia considering this sector in Namibia is fragile due to the drought?

Utkin: “It’s a very good question. On the sidelines of the recent 8th Session of the Russian-Namibian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, the Russian company ECOROST LLC (ECOROST) agreed with the Namibian Agricultural Business Development Agency (AGRIBUSDEV) to run trials of organic fertilizer produced by ECOROST on the land of AGRIBUSDEV on various crops, such as spinach, lettuce and tomato. Based on the outcome of these trials, a decision will be made on the establishment and operationalization of a joint venture project to promote ECOROST products in Namibia. Moreover, the Russian PJSC «URALKALI» displays a special interest in developing long-term relationships in the field of supplies of mineral fertilizers produced in Russia and requested to assist in establishing contacts with the key stakeholders of the Namibian agricultural sector. So, it`s quite realistic that a room for agriculture experts from Russia opens in Namibia.”

2019-12-06  Chrispin Inambao

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