Zimbabwe: Updated - President Arrives in Russia, Meets Putin

Photo: The Herald
President Emmerson Mnangagwa stands at attention as Zimbabwe's national anthem is played by a Guard of Honour mounted for him by the Russian military in Moscow. With Mnangagwa is Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (the Middle East and Africa) Bogdanov Mikhail Leonidovich.
15 January 2019

President Mnangagwa arrived here yesterday for a three-day State visit and will today meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was received by Mr Mikhail Leonidovich Bogdanov, the Russian Federation's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs responsible for relations with the Middle East and Africa, and inspected a Guard of Honour.

President Mnangagwa will today hold key talks with President Putin, with the two leaders expected to centre deliberations on key economic deals as well as matters of mutual concern on the international arena.

Co-operation between the two countries is presently defined within the context of a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and the Zimbabwe-Russia Joint Commission.

Insiders say another major issue that Presidents Mnangagwa and Putin want to thrash out is advancement of the US$3 billion Darwendale platinum project, a joint mining and beneficiation venture.

In President Mnangagwa's delegation are ministers Winston Chitando (Mines and Mining Development), Perrance Shiri (Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement), and Prof Mthuli Ncube (Finance and Economic Development).

Also with the President are Dr John Mangudya (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor) and Mr George Charamba (Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet), among other senior Government officials, as well as representatives of industry and commerce such as investor and businessperson Mr Kuda Tagwirei.

The State visit to Russia is the first stop in President Mnangagwa's four-nation tour of Eurasia, after which he will head to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

President Mnangagwa is visiting Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Switzerland as part of his international engagement and re-engagement drive that comprises one of the key pillars in his drive to make Zimbabwe an upper middle-income economy by 2030.

Among the major economic issues on the table in Moscow will be President Mnangagwa's invitation to Russia's diamond mining major, Alrosa, to enter the Zimbabwe market and help develop the sector.

After touring Alrosa's state-of-the-art facility in the Russian capital yesterday, President Mnangagwa told the media that he would formally present the invitation to Alrosa when he holds talks with President Putin today. President Mnangagwa is in Russia on the first leg of a four-nation Eurasian tour, after which he will join other influential world leaders and key investors in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

Before heading to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Belarus, President Mnangagwa is in Moscow to concretise arrangements with firms like Alrosa as he sets about transforming Zimbabwe into an upper middle-income economy by 2030. It is in that context that the talks with President Putin attract much importance.

Yesterday, the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said, "We believe that Alrosa will accept our invitation as Zimbabwe to participate in the development of our diamond industry.

"I'm sure that Alrosa is fully aware that we had closed the diamond industry in Zimbabwe from participation by foreign companies, but this policy was reversed in October last year, just about two months ago.

"We now have opened a small window for foreign companies to participate in our industry as a result of realising our limited capacity both in terms of capital outlay as well as in the application of modern technology to maximise exploitation of our diamonds in Zimbabwe.

"I have no doubt that tomorrow then I meet my counterpart President Putin, I hope that he is going to accept my invitation that we have the expertise here in the Russian Federation to come and partner with Zimbabwe in the development and exploitation of our industry. We believe we can make a significant contribution to the world diamond industry."

President Mnangagwa emphasised that Zimbabwe and Russia shared strong ties in the realms of the economy and defence and security co-operation, and engagements between the two sides today and in future would naturally be informed by that rich history.

"(Economic co-operation) is the principal reason why I am here with my delegation. The composition of my delegation will tell you a story: I have the Minister of Mines, I have the Minister of Agriculture, I have the Governor of the Reserve Bank and I have the Minister of Finance.

"All these people are economic ministers, which tells you the story that we have come here to promote economic co-operation with the Russian Federation," he said.

On the issue of defence and security co-operation, Zimbabwe's leader said "this is not a new area".

"In actual fact the entire liberation struggle of our country was assisted by your country. So there is a historical co-operation in respect of the military and defence and security. We are here, again, to consolidate and deepen that aspect of co-operation."

Alrosa's CEO, Mr Sergey Ivanov, said he had every confidence that not only would Zimbabwe's economy rebound, but that the Russian diamond mining behemoth would be a part of that growth and development.

He said he was not in a position to say exactly how much Alrosa was looking to invest in Zimbabwe, as this would be determined by the outcome of the talks between Presidents Mnangagwa and Putin, but expressed optimism that the firm would soon have an operation presence in the country.

Mr Ivanov pointed out that Alrosa had opened an office in Zimbabwe just six months after its first contacts with President Mnangagwa's Government, and soon that operation would be staffed with the relevant experts to advance the mutual goals of developing the country's diamond industry.

"We will shortly discuss opportunities to explore new fields, promising fields, in Zimbabwe and also how to produce from mature, established fields.

"We are happy to share all expertise in diamond sorting, pre-sales preparations and all other diamonds operations that may apply here."

He went on: "Let me also add that we were pleased by the top-notch expertise that the representatives of the delegated ministries of Zimbabwe with whom we have worked in the past six months.

"There is a good pool of experts in mining and exploration in Zimbabwe, so we hope that this, taken together, will underpin better potential for Alrosa to operate in the Zimbabwe market.

"We are also pleased by the positive regulatory changes that are currently going on, and we hope these will strengthen Alrosa's success and opportunities to discuss more opportunities with our Zimbabwean colleagues."

Alrosa accounts for nearly 30 percent of global diamond production, in terms of carats, and the firm has now ventured into greater value addition and marketing. The company has sales offices in the major diamond trading centres of Antwerp, Ramat Gan, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York, and London.

Apart from Alrosa, another major issue expected to come up for discussion when Presidents Mnangagwa and Putin meet is the US$3 billion Darwendale platinum mining and beneficiation project. Launched in 2014 under the previous regime, President Mnangagwa's new administration wants to ensure the venture becomes productive as early as next year.

Phase one of the project encompasses building of the plant, and surface and supporting infrastructure at a cost of US$500 million. Phase two is scheduled for March 2019 to October 2030, and includes construction and commissioning of a smelter with the mine churning out 16 tonnes of ore. Under phase three (2030-2039), production should increase to 25 tonnes.

Besides platinum, the Darwendale claim holds gold, nickel, copper, palladium and rhodium. The two countries have a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and interact within the framework of the Zimbabwe-Russia Joint Commission.

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