From Mduduzi Mathuthu in MOSCOW, Russia
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is today expected to meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in closed-door talks here aimed at deepening trade and investment ties with the global power.
President Mugabe, in Moscow at President Putin’s invitation in his capacity as African Union Chair, yesterday attended commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II.
He joined more than two dozen other world leaders including the presidents of China, Cuba, India, South Africa and Egypt for the awe-inspiring display of Russian military might in the iconic Red Square.
The colourful military pageant, featuring some 16 000 soldiers and displays by over 140 helicopters and fighter jets, ended with President Mugabe joining President Putin and other leaders in laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
President Mugabe’s spokesperson Mr George Charamba said the invitation to Russia provided an opportunity to engage President Putin on trade and investment deals – particularly the US$3 billion platinum mining joint venture between the two countries.
Agreements underpinned by Russian financing were signed in Harare last September during a high-profile visit by that country’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; the centrepiece of which is the mining venture in Darwendale which will create some 8 000 jobs and more than double the country’s annual platinum output which currently stands at 430 000 ounces.
President Mugabe, said Mr Charamba, was so keen to drive the deals forward that he had extended his stay in Russia to four days from an initial two.
And today the President will speak to Russian investors about Zimbabwe’s abundant mining, energy, tourism and transport infrastructure development potential.
Tomorrow, President Mugabe will address Zimbabwean students studying at various Russian universities as he concludes his visit.
Weighed down by more than a decade of illegal economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain who have restricted investment inflows to Zimbabwe, President Mugabe’s Government has invested in a co-operation with Russia and China among others as a countermeasure.
Minister Lavrov, during his visit to Harare, noted that Russia had also come under sanctions from Western countries that were trying to collapse their banking, energy and defence sectors, but sounded brotherly defiance by the superpower as he vowed his country’s commitment to see Zimbabwe survive the embargo.
“We’re all convinced that these unilateral coercive policies have no future,” Minister Lavrov said while observing that “Africa is one of the pillars of the evolving world system”.
He added: “What’s important these days is to recognise the pluralism in the international community.”
At the world famous Red Square yesterday, Russia showed that its military was in a healthy state at an event boycotted by Western countries who frown upon Moscow’s support for pro-Russia separatists fighting in Ukraine.
Russia has long pointed out the refusal by Western countries to acknowledge that the Soviet Union almost single-handedly defeated Hitler’s Nazis in 1945. The Federation of Russia says it lost some 26 million Soviet Union civilians and fighters to secure that victory – more than half the total casualties attributed to all Allied countries fighting Germany in World War II.
President Putin isolated the United States in particular, during his address, saying despite the importance of international co-operation, the peaceful coexistence of nations was endangered by “attempts to create a unipolar world”.
“This great victory will forever remain a heroic highpoint of our country’s history,” he said.
President Putin later led a rally, known as the Immortal Regiment march, with people holding pictures of relatives who fought during the war.
Police said more than 250 000 people joined the rally through Red Square in one of the largest turnouts for the annual Victory Day in Russia’s recent history.
World War II is called the Great Patriot War in Russia and to mark this year’s commemorations, the country staged what has been described as the world’s biggest ever military parade.
More than 16 000 infantry, sailors and airmen took part.
The undoubted star of the military hardware on show was the T-14 Armata, which many experts say is the most powerful tank in its class in the world.
Intercontinental strategic ballistic missiles also took pride of place as fighter jets roared over the city. And reminiscent of what China did in 2009 when celebrating the 60th anniversary of its revolution, Russia yesterday spiked clouds with a chemical cocktail to prevent rain on their parade.
The government spent some US$7 million on Russian technology to guarantee sunshine for the commemorations.
The military pageantry over, Zimbabwe’s eyes now turn to solidifying economic ties with Russia.
Russo-Zimbabwe relations were first established in 1961 when the late national hero Cde Tarcissius George Silundika, then a leader in the National Democratic Party, visited Moscow at the invitation of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee.
He had gone to solicit financial support and scholarships for young nationalists, in turn he received a US$8 400 grant for the NDP.
Follow-up visits by Zapu nationalists like Cdes Phelekezela Mphoko (now Vice-President of Zimbabwe), Akim Ndlovu and Dumiso Dabengwa resulted in increased support for the Second Chimurenga.
Fast-forward to 2014 and President Mugabe and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were overseeing the signing of several agreements to develop the Darwendale platinum project.
The deal is the largest single foreign investment into Zimbabwe.
Project development, which is expected to be completed in 2024, includes mining of 10 million tonnes of platinum ore to produce 800 000 ounces, pushing Zimbabwe’s overall output to over one million ounces and creating thousands of jobs.
Later this year, a high-powered Russian delegation is expected in Zimbabwe to explore investment in manufacturing of vaccines and medicines for livestock, infrastructure and new technologies.
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