Warming defence ties between Zimbabwe and Russia

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Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa met in Harare to discuss deepening military cooperation and economic relations between their countries, as part of Lavrov’s tour across several Eastern and Southern African countries including Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

Addressing the press after the meeting, Lavrov said that “considering (Russian-Zimbabwean) interaction in the sphere of military, technical cooperation” was long, successful and “positively regarded by both sides”, it had been decided a joint working group would be established to foster cooperation in this domain. Following the meeting, special advisor to the President Chris Mutsvangwa told journalists that the Russians “trained our freedom fighters during the liberation struggle and supplied us with weapons, so we’ve been familiar with Russian military equipment for many decades”.

Mutsvangwa was referencing the arms and logistical support the USSR supplied to the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIRPA), the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a Marxist/Leninist political party in former Rhodesia led by Joshua Nkomo in its struggle against other factions, in particular the British-backed colonial Rhodesian Government, led by Ian Smith, during the 1964-1979 Rhodesian Bush War.

Russia is expanding its influence in Africa, in particular by building on the USSR’s former bastions, as pointed out by Arnaud Dubiens from the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS). As Dubiens puts it, “Russia is trying to convert its old ideological ties, when they still exist, into geo-economic influence”. It has recently been active in Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, the Central African Republic and now Zimbabwe. These partnerships generally include some degree of arms sales as, according to SIPRI, Russia accounts for 39% of total arms exports to Africa. Indeed, Mutsvangwa also said the Zimbabwean Ministry of Defense was in negotiations with Moscow toward purchasing Russian weapons, as the United-States and the European Union stopped selling arms to Zimbabwe in the 2000s, following sanctions against ex-president Robert Mugabe’s government for human rights violations.

Russia’s interest in Zimbabwe is most likely fostered by the country’s large mineral resources, platinum in particular. Following the meeting the two officials also announced that Russia and Zimbabwe would redouble their efforts toward the Darwendale site joint venture, which exploits the world’s largest platinum deposit.



Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.