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US threatens Zim over Russian ties

TINASHE KAIRIZA
AS Africa reels from the catastrophic effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked by acute food and commodity shortages, the United States (US) has issued a stark warning of the prolonged consequences that will hit the continent (Zimbabwe included) if hostilities escalate.

Ratcheting pressure on Zimbabwe and Africa as a continent to render solidarity with Kiev’s cause is part of the US strategy to isolate the Kremlin, amid a sharp global rise in the prices of commodities ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military offensive against Ukraine in February this year.

To date, the US has shelled out over US$54 billion to Ukraine towards “security, humanitarian and economic assistance” while it has unleashed an array of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, seizing their vessels.

In the case of Africa, Washington has proposed the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act to weaken Russia, as the continent emerges to be a key battleground in the US strategy.

Relating to Zimbabwe, sanctioned by the superpower in 2001, recent media reports attributed to Russian news agency Tass, suggest the US requested Zimbabwe to sever ties with Russia due to Moscow’s aggression against Kiev.

However, the reports, citing enduring historical ties between Zimbabwe and Russia, highlight that Harare rebuffed the US.

A US State Department official told the Independent this week that advances by Washington to Harare are being extended to all countries in Africa to rally behind Kiev’s sovereignty rights as stipulated by international dictates.

“We are also asking countries to stand for the people of Ukraine. Putin’s war of aggression and blockade of Ukraine’s ports have already worsened global shortages of food, fuel, and other key commodities that disproportionately affect African countries and their populations.

“For this suffering to stop, Putin must end this war. Russia is violating the foundational principles of the United Nations which undergird a rules-based order,” the spokesperson told this publication.

“We are not asking countries to choose sides but to stand for principles – to support the fundamental principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union regarding sovereignty, territorial integrity, and peaceful resolution of disputes,” the US State Department added in an emailed response to the Independent.

In April, over 20 African countries abstained from voting or opposed the suspension of Russia’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council; 93 members voted in favour of Russia’s suspension. This voting trend, according to the United States Institute of Peace signalled that “Russia may be able to continue its relationship with different governments in Africa based on economic, political and security cooperation.”

Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko was in Zimbabwe recently where she met President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In the meeting, she implored African countries to denounce US sanctions against Russia. With Russia ranked as the largest producer of nitrogen fertiliser in the world, Matvienko underscored that Russia would devise ways of mitigating food and commodity shortages currently experienced in Africa.

In 2020, Africa imported a range of agricultural products worth US$6,9 billion from Russia and Ukraine.

In March, the Russian ambassador to Zimbabwe Nikolai Krasilnikov told this publication that Russia’s “hope” was that Western leaders would not blindly follow “Anglo-Saxon” foreign policy.

Questions sent to the European Union (EU) Delegation to Zimbabwe seeking clarity on how the bloc intended to partner with Africa towards finding a lasting solution in Ukraine had not been addressed at the time of going to print.

University of London Professor of World Politics Stephen Chan said the US strategy on the continent to further weaken and isolate Russia was pivoted on consistently reminding African countries that commodity shortages are being triggered by “Russian adventurism in Ukraine.”

“The US will continue to remind African countries that their food supply chain difficulties, their rising petroleum, and other import costs are because of Russian adventurism and Russia’s attempts to recolonise Ukraine.

“It (US) will point out that the atrocities committed by Wagner soldiers on African soil are the same atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine. Basically, the message will be, ‘be careful who you deal with, we will not rescue you when it goes sour’,” Chan said.

“The US has encouraged many African countries to review their relations with Russia. South Africa would be the big prize for the US. It has already developed warmer ties with Zambia and outside South Africa, Zambia is now an emblem of what seems to be a responsible government in the Sadc region.”

Questions sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary James Manzou seeking insight on Zimbabwe’s stance on the Russian war in Ukraine drew blanks.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was sparked by Kiev’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) – an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 member states mostly European countries, the US and Canada. It was established on April 4, 1949 at the end of World War II.

Russia has emphasised that Kiev’s manoeuvres to seek Nato membership compromised its territorial security among other interests.

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