It was interesting having Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in town last week.
Editor’s Memo with Iden Wetherell
He was here to sign a US$3 billion platinum mining deal, the biggest single investment by a foreign company since Independence.
“The Russians are coming …” was a natural heading for the local press, but I had my own story.
The Russians will sell Zimbabwe military equipment that will circumvent the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US in 2001.
As President Robert Mugabe pointed out, items supplied by the West were in need of replacement that could not be done under sanctions.
The Russians have already demonstrated solidarity by vetoing a Security Council resolution at the UN in 2008 for which Mugabe has expressed deep gratitude.
The Russians are also keen to explore the country’s diamond deposits. The Russian deals, Mugabe said, “will see us rise as a nation”. There evidently hasn’t been much rising hitherto!
The Russians backed Zapu’s Joshua Nkomo in Zimbabwe’s liberation war while Mugabe’s Zanu was supported by China and Romania. In fact the Russians, like the South Africans, saw Zanu as apostate and Zapu as the authentic nationalist movement.
South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki was instrumental in getting the ANC to recognise the transfer of power in Harare in 1980 when many in the ANC were unprepared for the new order under Mugabe.
None of this is strictly relevant except for the Lavrov connection.
I found myself sitting next to Russia’s powerful Foreign minister at a function in New York at the United Nations in 2002.
I was there to receive a World Press Review award for International Editor of the Year although I doubt that Lavrov would recall this.
He was locked in intense conversation with Britain’s UN representative Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
The only light relief came when the conference hosts announced my presence. As the applause began, Lavrov turned to me and said “Stand up, stand up”.
I should have replied “But I am standing up”, but the UN was not the most suitable venue for repartee. In the end I did stand up to receive my plaudits. It was a very pleasant lunch and was one of several functions that my organisers laid on. I did not see Lavrov again. Indeed I had no reason to. But every time I see him on the TV news I have a good chuckle.
He invariably speaks Russian when making a statement and has translators present for interviews. But I know he speaks fluent English because I have heard him first hand.
I wish the same could be said for his countrymen. They are currently swarming all over the globe without the slightest grasp of English.
I travel to the Far East most years and Russians are evident and voluble. They get out their maps and wave them at you pointing to where they think they are, hoping you will give them the necessary guidance. As nobody I know speaks Russian this is all rather frustrating.
I have watched the transformation of cities and favourite beach resorts with apprehension as they pour in. It is obviously an attractive deal. Moscow and other Russian cities are encased in ice at certain times of the year.
Leningrad and Volgograd are good examples of growing source markets where Russians can book their escapes from freezing temperatures at home.
Far Eastern resorts such as Singapore and Thailand are sunny and hot year-round.
They also contain modern facilities such as air-conditioned shopping malls which are not always available to Russians at home.
Russia has therefore experienced a dramatic increase in tourism numbers travelling to Far East resorts.
It is doubtful whether the Russians have discovered Zimbabwe yet.
The pictures at Kutama in the local press caught Lavrov looking perplexed while Mugabe seemed to be giving one of his history lessons.
I think I will pass on that. But I am prepared to show Lavrov around if he ever decides to see Zimbabwe in more detail. There are no beaches but a nice climate and most people will welcome Russian visitors — whatever their language skills!
The real question however is: Will Lavrov and the Russians rescue Zimbabwe?