Russia-Zim cold war front

Putin drags Zim, Sadc region to new front

Business Day- News Analysis

29 September 2014 

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right, shares a light moment with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov at Great Dyke Mine in Darwendale, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG - Russia’s arrival in Zimbabwe with a billion-dollar investment after President Robert Mugabe’s trip to China is helping to turn the country — and the Southern African Development Community — into a new Cold War front.

Besides trade and investment agreements, the countries signed an arms deal which, says Russian Trade minister Denis Manturov, will see Russia supply military hardware, helicopters and trucks to Zimbabwe.

Manturov preceded his Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Zimbabwe two weeks ago where they sealed several agreements that include a platinum mining deal worth $3 billion. It will be the biggest such project in Zimbabwe and will create thousands of jobs.

This month Mugabe visited old ally China where he signed several infrastructural development agreements. But it is the deals with Russia that are reviving memories of the Cold War — the high political and military tension between western and eastern powers that lasted for decades after the Second World War.

The tensions between the two power blocs purportedly ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but continued to simmer under the surface, playing out in the United Nations Security Council. In Zimbabwe’s case, China and Russia have stood with Mugabe steadfastly whenever the West has tried to tighten measures against his regime.

Mugabe has been under western sanctions since the turn of the millennium. The US introduced targeted economic measures through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, 2001 which blocked access to international credit for black-listed people. The European Union (EU) followed with freezes of assets and investments belonging to top party and state officials deemed to be propping up Mugabe’s misrule.

The president will hurtle himself into the hands of anyone who will save his regime as the rebellious populace remains restive. He controversially won last July’s elections with a landslide but a year later not a single promise in his party’s manifesto has been fulfilled. He promised to create two million jobs in a country where unemployment is a staggering 85 percent and the economy is mainly in the informal sector.

The West has also imposed sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s Russia over his handling of the Crimean crisis and his actions in Ukraine, and these have had devastating effects on the Russian economy. The rouble this week crashed to a record low.

As during the Cold War, Russia is scrambling to get allies in Africa in order to stem western influence. It will also need Africa’s limitless resources to keep its economy going in the face of its fight with the West.

During the Cold War a number of proxy wars were fought in Africa over resources, leaving millions of Africans dead and the affected countries none the richer for them. These wars are likely to resurface in different forms.

The EU was set to lift the remaining economic measures against Mugabe and his government early in November. The US has also continued to give humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe over the years. Whether in the light of Zimbabwe’s new friendship with Russia, the western bloc will continue its carrot-and-stick approach to formalising relations with Zimbabwe is now uncertain.

But the new Cold War frontier is unlikely to be restricted to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is the chairman of 15-member regional bloc Southern African Development Community until August next year. He will also assume chairmanship of the continental bloc, the African Union in January. He is considered to be “the elder statesman” in most of Africa. — Bday