Zim free to buy arms from Russia: US ambassador

Nqobile Bhebhe

OUTGOING United States ambassador Charles Ray has said his country’s government would not prescribe trading partners to Zimbabwe as it would be risky to have “exclusive business relations with a single country”.Ray was responding to questions from the Zimbabwe Independent on what the US thought of Zimbabwe’s “resources for arms” deal with Russia which would ostensibly see the country being supplied with military helicopters and other hardware in exchange for platinum mining claims.
“It’s not for my government to decide or disagree on business arrangements which this country (Zimbabwe) should make with any country,” said Ray.
“Russia is a sovereign country and if Zimbabwe wants to make deals with them, who are we to say they should not,” Ray asked, saying it would be a mistake for the country to put its investment trust on one source.
Ray ends his three-year tour of duty at the end of the month.
A report carried by the Russian Kommersant business daily and online publications said officials from the former superpower visited Zimbabwe in April and all but secured an inter-governmental agreement on stimulating investment and defence, under which a state corporation, Russian Technologies, would supply military helicopters in exchange for mineral rights to platinum deposits in Darwendale.
The reports said Ruschrome Mining, a company jointly owned by Zimbabwe and the Russian government’s Centre for Business Cooperation with Foreign Countries, received a 25-year licence for the exploration and development of platinum deposits.
However, checks by the Independent with Russian diplomats in Harare indicated the military helicopters in question may actually be old ones which had been taken for repairs, in the world’s largest country in terms of surface area.
Reports say the Darwendale mining area which has attracted the Russians’ interest in the mineral-rich Great Dyke has platinum reserves as well as other valuable metals such as gold, nickel, copper and palladium, among others.
A mining executive confirmed last week the Russians’ visit in April but warned a major sticking point could however be differences in valuation of the resource between government and the Russians.
He said the Russians wanted government to take into consideration investment, financing and operating costs to extract and process the mineral in evaluating the deal.