Zuma’s mys­te­ri­ous mis­sion to Rus­sia

CityPress - - News - CARIEN DU PLESSIS and GALINA SIDOROVA news@city­press.co.za

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s visit to Rus­sia this week has cre­ated more ques­tions than an­swers with most of the spec­u­la­tion be­ing that his visit was for pri­vate health rea­sons and not for po­lit­i­cal work.

It was a six-day visit with a most un­pun­ish­ing sched­ule.

Al­though the Pres­i­dency is­sued a press re­lease about Zuma’s meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, a veil of se­crecy was drawn over the de­tails of the rest of his visit.

His only other known meet­ing was with Michael Margelov, Putin’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for co­op­er­a­tion with African states, with whom he dis­cussed African peace­keep­ing and Rus­sia’s con­cerns about Is­lamic ex­trem­ists gain­ing a foothold in Africa.

Un­usu­ally, for a long visit to an im­por­tant ally, Zuma was ac­com­pa­nied only by State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo and Deputy In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Min­is­ter No­main­dia Mfeketo.

It was ru­moured that, as usual, he took his doc­tor and four se­cu­rity of­fi­cers, but, un­usu­ally, no aides, ad­vis­ers nor wives.

This week, Putin was swamped with con­cerns and bad pub­lic­ity about the in­ten­si­fy­ing war in Ukraine in which Rus­sia has been branded as the ag­gres­sor.

He made time to re­ceive Zuma on Thurs­day at Novo-Ogar­i­ovo – his res­i­dence near Moscow where he wel­comes his for­eign friends in a “less of­fi­cial at­mos­phere”.

Zuma is one of Putin’s most fre­quent visi­tors. This is his fifth trip to Rus­sia, the two also met at the Brics sum­mit in Brazil last month.

The visit came as a sur­prise to Rus­sian and South African jour­nal­ists.

Noth­ing was leaked about it, not even in Rus­sia, where con­trols on the flow of in­for­ma­tion have been tight­ened in re­cent months.

An of­fi­cial at the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Pre­to­ria re­fused to go be­yond the de­tails of the of­fi­cial press re­leases around the visit.

“For now, we do not com­ment on Zuma’s visit to Rus­sia,” he said.

The of­fi­cial re­lease from Putin’s of­fice said the work­ing meet­ing oc­curred “in the con­text of the up­com­ing Novem­ber ses­sion of the joint South Africa-Rus­sia In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Com­mit­tee on Trade and Economic Co­op­er­a­tion”. It also said the two would dis­cuss how to fur­ther de­velop Rus­sia and South Africa’s strate­gic part­ner­ship, “in­clud­ing in­vest­ment ties, bi­lat­eral trade and the ex­port of agri­cul­tural pro­duce from South Africa”.

Putin has in­tro­duced tit-for-tat agri­cul­tural sanc­tions against the Euro­pean Union and the US af­ter they slapped sanc­tions on Rus­sian banks and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.

This has led to the dis­ap­pear­ance of fruit, cheese and some meats and dairy prod­ucts from lo­cal su­per­mar­kets.

As 20% of what Rus­sians con­sume is im­ported, the coun­try is now turn­ing to South Africa and friendly Latin Amer­i­can states for help.

Zuma’s of­fice this week also said he “re­quested sup­port” for South Africa’s peace­keep­ing ef­forts in Africa, in­clud­ing the in­terim standby force, or the African Ca­pac­ity for Im­me­di­ate Re­sponse to Crises (ACIRC).

Zuma has spear­headed the cre­ation of ACIRC and an un­der­funded South African de­fence force is scram­bling to get ready for duty in Oc­to­ber.

An­dré Roux, se­nior re­searcher in the train­ing for peace pro­gramme at the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies said it was likely that South Africa wanted Rus­sia to help with strate­gic air­lifts for the planned in­ter­ven­tion force.

“Rus­sia has a big strate­gic fleet that can pro­vide air­lift. They have mas­sive ca­pac­ity to spare,” he said.

This in­cluded a large fleet of Ilyushin 76 and Antonov 124 air­craft.

Ear­lier this month, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama also pledged mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to the African Union peace­keep­ing forces, but ide­o­log­i­cally and in terms of strate­gic re­la­tions, South Africa is closer to Rus­sia than the US.

Roux said the Rus­sians were also con­cerned about China be­cause, al­though it is an ally through Brics, the coun­try is also Rus­sia’s big­gest com­peti­tor in Africa.

How­ever, China does not have the equip­ment avail­able to pro­vide the same type of mil­i­tary as­sis­tance.

He added that South Africa had an in­tel­li­gence-sharing agree­ment with the Rus­sians, which could be used dur­ing in­ter­ven­tions or peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions.

For now, we do not com­ment on Zuma’s visit to Rus­sia RUS­SIAN EM­BASSY OF­FI­CIAL

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.