‘Zimbabwe-Russia deals remain intact’ Ambassador Nikolai Krasilnikov

On February 24, Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine. The move has changed the landscape of global politics and economics, as the world is reacting to the decision in varied ways. Despite the differences in opinions — on whether or not the military operation was warranted — reality is value chains have been disrupted due to emerging uncertainties and effects are being felt everywhere including Zimbabwe. Our Senior Reporter Leroy Dzenga (LD) had an interview with Russian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Nikolai Krasilnikov (NK) discussing Russia-Zimbabwe relations in the wake of these developments. Below is the full text interview:

LD: Ambassador Russia recently launched a military operation in Ukraine, what necessitated this move?

NK: The special military operation by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was undertaken to prevent escalation of aggression perpetrated by the Kiev regime against the Russian-speaking people of the Ukrainian region of Donbass.

After the coup d’etat in Ukraine in 2014, which was strongly supported by Western countries, the regime in Kiev started openly promoting neo-Nazism and facilitated establishment of Nazi organisations — their members marched with torches paying tribute to Hitler’s criminals, chanting Nazi- and anti-Russian slogans. The West just sat back and watched, many even supported and encouraged this movement that our grandfathers fought and defeated back in 1941-1945 during the Great Patriotic War.

Russia had been trying for years to raise attention of Western countries, including the United States, which failed to vote for the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism and all forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance, under the pretext of avoiding infringement on freedom of speech.

The Crimea region made a decision through referendum to become part of the Russian Federation. In Donbass people who refused to support the coup were persecuted. Forced ukrainisation and language discrimination against a considerable part of the society, including flagrant violations of the rights of Russian speakers, became an integral element of the Kiev regime.

It started war in Donbass using heavy weapons and combat aircraft. Since April 2014, the Ukrainian armed forces and law enforcement agencies have been ignoring the international agreements by massively shelling Donbass communities, killing and wounding thousands of civilians, using indiscriminate lethal weapons prohibited under the international humanitarian law.

Apart from killing people in Donbass, Kiev enforced an economic and transport embargo, bringing the region to the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

Minsk Agreements were concluded. They showed the way to a peaceful settlement of this conflict. There were no special demands by the people of Donbass, just basic things: the right to speak their mother tongue, this is the Russian language, and to follow their traditions and culture. But Donbass remained under siege, switched off from the banking system, food supplies and payments of pensions and other social benefits. Shelling continued. More than 14 000 people have been killed over eight years. The Ukrainian law has consistently been adjusted to prohibit the use of any language other than Ukrainian in the public sector, the education system and the media. The adoption of several laws, including on Education and on Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language, has introduced discriminatory restrictions against the Russian language. Other laws were also adopted to ensure the forced ukrainisation of public life.

The so-called civilised West preferred to turn a blind eye to all those events. Instead talks renewed about admitting Ukraine to NATO amid a catastrophic decline in global security caused primarily by the United States, that encouraged and supported Kiev’s russophobic policy.

The official statements by Ukrainian politicians, including President Zelensky, about seeking nuclear weapons, demonstrated clearly their aggressive intentions. Ukraine has had nuclear competencies since the Soviet times. It was capable of launching nuclear enrichment projects. They have missile competencies. They would be able to keep Russia at the nuclear gunpoint.

Long-standing fears, which Russia has expressed multiple times over many years, regarding the development in Ukraine of the military-grade biological materials under the guidance of the relevant US special services, were confirmed recently. During the special military operation it was found that the Ukranian regime had been concealing traces of a military biological programme funded by the US Department of Defence. It is evident that components of biological weapons were being developed in Ukrainian laboratories in the direct proximity to the territory of the Russian Federation.

LD: What are the timelines for the operation? How long is it going to run?

NK: Russia could have simply helped the independent republics of Donbass —  the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) — by reinforcing them with our army. But in this case, the Western countries would have provided endless support to the regime in Kiev with the material resources, ammunition, equipment, and so on.

Therefore it was decided to take a different road. The Russian Armed Forces destroyed the Ukranian military infrastructure. Not completely but most of it: arms and ammunition depots, aircraft and air defence systems. This work has been practically finished.

The goals of returning Ukraine to the origins of its sovereignty, which are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that proclaimed its neutral status, will be achieved. It is best to do so by way of peaceful negotiations.  Concurrently with the special military operation, talks in Belarus are being held with the Kiev regime in order to end as soon as possible the resistance by the Ukranian armed forces and senseless bloodshed. The third round of talks was on March 7. Some progress has been made, in particular on humanitarian corridors for the civilians to leave war zones. Russia called on the Ukrainian side to do everything possible to ensure the safe passage of civilians. The discussion of political, military and humanitarian issues will continue.

On March 10 on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum, at Turkey’s initiative and in accordance with the agreement reached during a telephone conversation between the Presidents of Russia and Turkey, there was a trilateral meeting of Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu and Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba.

The Russian side highlighted that during the latest round of talks in Belarus the Russian delegation had made specific proposals in the form of a draft legally binding document, and that the Ukrainian delegation had said that they would take it to Kiev for discussion and would provide a concrete reply soon.

LD: What needs to happen for Russia to call the operation a success?

NK: The special military operation is not designed to occupy Ukraine, destroy its statehood, divide the country or topple its government. It is not directed against civilians. The goals are to protect the residents of Donbass, to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, to eliminate the military threat to Russia emanating from Ukraine flooded with weapons provided by NATO countries.

We want to see Ukraine demilitarised with the neutral status fixed in its Constitution. Russia must have guarantees that weapons able to change the security balance in Europe cannot be deployed in Ukraine. We need a list of specific offensive weapons that will never be deployed or manufactured in Ukraine.

At the same time it is obligatory to eradicate Nazism that made a comeback in Ukraine over seven decades after World War II.

What Russia proposes is an arrangement that will ensure the legitimate rights of all nationalities living in Ukraine, all ethnic minorities without exception. If the current government in Kiev agrees to the terms that are now being negotiated they will be formalised as an arrangement.

LD: There have been sanctions and a lot of criticism against Russia, with the West seeking to isolate your country. How are you going to work around the exclusion?

NK: The Western countries have launched financial and economic war against Russia: announced a default on their financial liabilities to Russia and frozen our gold and currency reserves. They are trying to stop foreign trade and export of goods, inflicting damage on global trade. There are attempts to create a shortage of imported essentials in Russia and to compel successful businesses with foreign capital to shut down.

The Government of the Russian Federation takes measures to stabilise financial market, support state industries and the private sector, to ensure uninterrupted functioning of enterprises without disruptions in logistics and production chains and to maintain employment. Russia has many friends and allies, Zimbabwe is in the forefront, numerous partners in the international arena who did not lose their independence and ability to put their interests first. So, it is impossible to isolate my country or to exclude us from the World community.

For Russia sanctions will be yet another driver of the economy, just as an impetus was made to the agricultural sector some time ago. Last year Russia made US$25 billion from agricultural exports. That seemed impossible only a short while ago, but my country did it. Take another sphere, aviation. Over the past few years our competitors, including Americans, have included in their sanctions lists certain materials necessary for manufacturing aircraft. We ended up making what they tried to strip us of — invented our own innovative materials even better than foreign-made ones. Unfortunately, that led to a shift in schedules up to eighteen months, but we did it and will do the same in other areas.

LD: Will Zimbabwe-Russia trade be affected by these sanctions? How much is the current trade between the two countries?

NK: The current Russia-Zimbabwe trade does not correspond to the high level of political coordination between Moscow and Harare. In case trade is affected with sanctions an impact on the whole mechanism of our partnership will be insignificant.

LD: In the face of these sanctions and uncertainties, will investment projects in Zimbabwe being financed by Russian companies like Alrosa and Great Dyke Investments continue?

NK: Two flagships of our investment cooperation, Great Dyke Investment for developing platinum group of metals and ALROSA-Zimbabwe for exploring diamonds, are well on track with very good prospects. I’m sure that other projects will follow due to the great interest in Russia to do business in the safe, conducive environment of Zimbabwe under the new dispensation.

ICT, agriculture, energy, transport, pharmaceutics are the spheres in the focus of attention. The bilateral agenda includes preparing the Fourth Session of the Joint Commission on Economic, Trade, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. As usual within this framework, we will discuss ways of enhancing partnership between our independent and sovereign states.

LD: How safe are Zimbabwean students in Russia?

NK: The Zimbabwean students in Russia have always been safe. Their security is guaranteed by my country’s law enforcement. In the current academic year 76 students enrolled in the higher education institutions due to scholarships provided by the Russian Government. Initially, the quota for Zimbabwe was 65 but we increased it because of the great interest among the Zimbabwean youth to go study in Russia. For 2022/23 the quota for Zimbabwe is 80 and the Embassy has already received 230 applications. I encourage those young people who will not qualify for the next academic year to start learning Russian at the on-line courses launched recently by the Embassy so they would be better prepared for long term studies in Russia.

As for the Zimbabwean students in Ukraine we have provided the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic of Zimbabwe with access to the hotline established by the Russian Ministry of Defence in order to solve problems with evacuation and other humanitarian issues.

It is well known that many of foreign citizens who attempt to cross the Ukrainian border heading to Europe, encounter immense difficulties. We have taken note of a statement on this matter issued by the Senegalese Chair of the African Union. Reports on ruthless attacks by the Ukrainian nationalists on African students are appalling.

LD: How does Russia interpret Zimbabwe and other African countries abstaining from the recent vote at the United Nations General Assembly?

NK: The Western countries led by the United States made incredible efforts to make sure the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine was widely approved. In New York and in various capitals they used blackmail, attempts of bribery and threats of sanctions. However they failed — adoption of that document does not represent the unified voice of the General Assembly. Dozens of the UN members refused to vote for the anti-Russian resolution. Among them are the Republic of Zimbabwe and some other African states which follow independent and balanced foreign policy. The Statement on the issue by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is very clear.

We agree with the Zimbabwean friends that the resolution poured more fuel to the fire. It is obvious that it emboldened the Ukrainian radicals to continue their criminal actions. The anti-Russian resolution of the UN General Assembly runs counter to the direction of dialogue. For the Russian Side, we are ready to continue  the talks with Ukraine in order to prevent further bloodshed.

LD: Zimbabwe relies on Russian wheat and part of the world`s crude oil comes from Russia. Are there ways that the Zimbabwean citizenry can be cushioned from potential shortages of these critical commodities?

NK: Everything that Russia is scheduled to supply it is supplying to consumers worldwide. Even the Ukrainian gas transit system is filled to 100% under our contracts.

Prices of gas, oil and petroleum products are going up but not because of Russia. For example, the United States announced that they were shutting down imports of Russian oil to the US market. And the fact is that the  Russian oil distribution to the US does not exceed 3%. This is a negligible amount, but their prices are up while the ban on Russian oil imports had nothing to do with it. Inflation rates in the US are all-time high, still they are trying to blame us for the consequences of their own problems.

On March 10, at a meeting by President Putin with the Government, the Russian Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev confirmed that the food security of the country had been guaranteed and that Russia would continue to service its export obligations for foreign agricultural markets, including export of wheat and fertilisers.

LD: There are fears that this may degenerate into World War Three, which will result in major loss of lives. Does Russia have measures to avoid a full-scale global war outbreak?

NK: World War III could only be fought with nuclear weapons. In June last year President Putin and President Biden met in Geneva to reaffirm what the USSR and the US leaders stated back in the 1980s: in a nuclear war everybody loses, it must never happen. In January this year all five permanent member-states of the UN Security Council signed a joint statement expressing the same idea.

Just recently President Biden announced that the only alternative to a new anti-Russian sanctions package was a “third world war”. It is a very dangerous way of thinking.

Russia has always called for resolving all issues with the US and other NATO countries diplomatically, through negotiations. I’d like to draw your attention to my country’s efforts to ensure safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

As part of the special military operation control was taken of the Chernobylskaya and Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plants and the adjacent areas. This measure was taken to prevent Ukrainian nationalists and foreign mercenaries from taking advantage of the current state of affairs to carry out nuclear provocations.

The situation at the Chernobylskaya and Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plants is being monitored jointly by Ukrainian specialists and Russian military. Background radiation at both nuclear power plants is normal.

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