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Transcript of 'Russia-Zimbabwe talks' between Putin and Mnangagwa

10 Jun 2024 at 11:16hrs | Views
The penchant for frivolous bluster in Zimbabwe's public discourse has once again reared its ugly trappings after the widespread circulation on social media platforms of a 2.42-minutes video clip posted on an obscure if not dubious YouTube channel; containing incomplete remarks made by President Mnangagwa in his tête à tête with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the Konstantinovsky Palace in St Petersburg, Russia. President Mnangagwa was in Russia, attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF'24).

As often happens – and notwithstanding that the circulating video clip is incomplete and thus lacks context to enable a properly grounded analysis as it contains only partial remarks taken from a much longer, more comprehensive and substantive presentation by Mnangagwa
 – the social media responses to the clip went berserk with the usual political mockery, bordering on juvenile delinquency and bereft of informed or informing commentary.

To unpack the full import of the Putin-Mnangagwa meeting, it is essential to first reproduce the full verbatim transcripts of the opening statements by the two presidents, as released by the Government of Russia on its Kremlin website on 6 June 2024 under the rubric, 'Russia-Zimbabwe talks' [].

The unpacking of the two statements below, is presented in three parts:

I.   Full verbatim transcript of President Putin's opening statement.
II.  Full verbatim transcript of President Mnangagwa's opening statement.
III. My review of the two statements and their implications, in the form of 10 observations.

Vladimir Putin held talks with President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa at the Constantine Palace.
June 6, 2024

St Petersburg

The two leaders' conversation was followed by expanded talks during a working lunch.
* * *
The beginning of Russia-Zimbabwe talks in the restricted format

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "Mr President, I am delighted to welcome you to Russia.

Mr President, I am delighted to welcome you to Russia.

Our previous meeting also took place here in St Petersburg, at the Russia‒Africa Summit, and we truly appreciate your personal involvement in developing our interstate ties.

Russia‒Zimbabwe relations were established a long time ago when your nation was struggling for independence, and they continue to advance extensively. I was pleased to note that our mutual trade increased several fold over the past year. However, it is clear that we still have much work to do in diversifying our ties.

We have very good relations in the humanitarian and educational sectors. Currently, 400 young people from your country are studying in Russia, and we increase this quota on a regular basis.

I appreciate your involvement in our joint persistent efforts in the international arena. Our stances on the core issues on the international agenda are quite similar and even coinciding.

I am glad to have this opportunity to meet with you on the side lines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. I am confident that your presence here will serve as a testimony to the African continent's interest in developing relations with Russia, which is among our priorities.

We have agreed to make efforts to enhance our cooperation, and have also created new interaction formats, such as meetings and consultations between our foreign ministers. We hope that your representative will attend such a meeting that will take place in Sochi this autumn.

Welcome, Mr President."
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa: "Thank you very much, Your Excellency President Putin.

May I, on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, the government, and indeed on my own behalf, extend my warmest regards to you. I am so happy that you were able to invite me to come here to meet you. This is an opportunity, Your Excellency, that I have been looking forward to, because Zimbabwe and the Russian Federation have excellent relations, and it is critically important that we make them more comprehensive and share the challenges that we are facing.

Commonly, the challenges that you face are the same challenges that we face in Southern Africa, because we are one of the few countries in Southern Africa that is regarded as anti-West, and I feel so humbled that you have extended an invitation for me to come over here. This is an opportunity where we can share the challenges that we face both at the national level and at the international level, because we have relations with Western countries. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to consolidate them, to identify areas where we can pursue cooperation between our two countries and consolidate, and make them more comprehensive between ourselves. There is no need to shy away from each other. I think our pursuit in terms of international relations is the same.

We were disregarded as an isolated island in Southern Africa, but I am anxious that we develop comprehensive relations with the Russian Federation, and I can assure you that I have that determination on my part. And much more so, you yourself, as the President, as well as the Russian Federation, have support in Zimbabwe. You see, we have received support, we received food allocations from yourselves last year, and we have received cooperation in the military and security sector. That alone, as you continue to do so, we continuously become isolated in our region. But we are determined to be ourselves, we are determined to be independent.

We don't care what other countries say about us, you know, under President Mugabe. And there was this Prime Minister in Britain, and the relations just ended there. And thereafter, most of the British and Americans, they have not looked upon us; they think that we are too inclined to the East. But we have no apologies at all. We feel we have better relations with the people who also respect us, not the persons who look down upon us. So we are very happy to be here. We are anxious to have more comprehensive and concentrated relations between ourselves. Yes, we are a very advanced country; but there is a lot that we can learn from you and there is a lot that will benefit from that relationship. And there is a lot that we can open for the Russian Federation to participate in our economy, especially in the mining sector and agriculture. There is a lot that we can afford for you to participate.

And in that process, the West will run away. You see, the West has just begun consolidating its power in Zambia, our next neighbour. You know, there was a time when Zambia and Zimbabwe were one; it was called Northern and Southern Rhodesia. It was made one by the British, but they are now separate.

And the Americans are consolidating their power in that country, both in terms of security and in terms of financial support to Zambia to make sure that we feel lonely. But that will not change us, because we have taken a course as a people that we feel we want to be independent and we will choose our friends ourselves. And besides, we are independent today because most of us in the leadership trained here during our war of liberation. We got our independence because we are supported by yourselves here, and we don't forget that history, and you don't forget about us.

So, Mr President, I am happy to be here. If an opportunity avails later on – I mean, we will find time to chat and go into more detail as to which areas we must focus on in terms of supporting each other and in terms of where we feel we need external support, especially in the area of difference in security as well as food security. Those areas we need to be supported in – the mechanisation of agriculture and so on. We cannot go to the West; we have to come here because the West would want to see us down. They support our neighbours, Zambia and Malawi, very heavily. But in spite of that, Zimbabwe's economic growth is the fastest growing economy in the region, in spite of us being isolated by the Americans.

So, Your Excellency, I am very happy to be here."
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe

1. This was a one-on-one meeting, a tête à tête which was "in the restricted format", according to the Kremlin. To say this does not mean there was no one else present. And, to say it was a one-on-one meeting means that the engagement was only between the two leaders, and therefore did not include their delegations. It is notable that the meeting was in a self-evidently high security room.

2.  Even quick or amateurish perusal of the verbatim transcripts of the statements by the two presidents would immediately reveal that their statements were neither random nor off the cuff. The remarks they made were clearly prepared in advance and thus aforethought, organically structured, unmistakably reflective of the national interests of the two countries, and addressing critical geopolitical issues of the day and their implications going forward. From the nature, content and quality of the two transcripts, it is clear that the kneejerk and self-indulgent claims of an ‘embarrassing diplomatic gaffe' by Mnangagwa
 are clearly mere assertions that are unwarranted, thoughtless and without merit.

3. There has been an interesting and revealing response to this sentence in Mnangagwa
's opening statement: "Americans are consolidating their power in that country [Zambia], both in terms of security and in terms of financial support to Zambia to make sure that we feel lonely". The phrase, "…to make sure we feel lonely", has given rise to frankly childish and over the top fascination with the phrase which smacks of juvenile delinquency and betrays ignorance or lack of understanding or the inexperience of the commentators who have been going comical with the phrase, apparently because they are unaware that the phrase that the phrase is actually common lingua in diplomacy and politics, and it means, "they want us to feel isolated". If or when you are isolated, you of course feel lonely; that is the objective of isolation of national leaders or countries. For example, it is common cause that a key plank of US foreign policy in pursuit of regime change in the global south is the isolation of the targeted national leaders or countries to indeed make them feel lonely. That is exactly the nefarious objective of sanctions like the unilateral US coercive measures under the so-called Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. It is for this reason that a tried and tested response to imperialist policies that seek the isolation of national leaders or progressive countries in the global south is solidarity.

4. The self-indulgent claims that the remarks in the video clip, which does not have the full statement, insults Sadc neighbours, Malawi and Zambia or the leaders of these countries; are shocking. There's nothing either on the video clip or in the statement on which the video is based that insults any Sadc leader or country. The statement by Mnangagwa
 to a head of state of a superpower, the Russian Federation President Putin, is unambiguously about what the US government, a superpower, is doing in Zambia and how that affects Zimbabwe; about why Zimbabwe has legitimate national interests and national security concerns which are best addressed in a broader geopolitical context beyond the Zimbabwean and Zambian axis. To be sure, Zimbabwe would be a stupid country, and the country's national leadership would not be up to its task, if it were to be found unconcerned about the mischief of a superpower like the US, which after imposing sanctions on the country under the outrageous pretext that the situation in Zimbabwe posed a national security threat to the US and its foreign policy, starts doing things in a neighbour like Zambia; things which, among other objects, target Zimbabwean elections. The issue is as simple as that and is therefore potentially very dangerous; hence, it is a matter of Zimbabwe's national security interest, and is a legitimate issue to raise in a tête à tête, such as the one between Putin and Mnangagwa.

5. Parenthetically, and only for the sake of a perspective, it is clear from the verbatim transcript of the statement presented by Mnangagwa
 and published by the government of the Russian Federation, that not a single untoward word was uttered about anything done by or against Zambia or its leadership or about any other leader or Sadc country. Yet, by way of comparison, it's well known in circles that matter that – in September 2022 ahead of Zimbabwe's harmonised general election held on 23/24 August 2023 – Zambia's President, Hakainde Hichilema, had a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden where some nefarious things were said and plotted about and against Zimbabwe, some of that became public and some is a story yet to be told.

Suffice it to say that subsequent to that one-on-one between Hichilema and Biden in September 2022; there were hostile actions and pronouncements, some which are documented, against Zimbabwe taken by the current leadership in Zambia in liaison with the US government, especially in the run up to, during and after Zimbabwe's August 2023 harmonised general election; while much of this now well-known, the full story is yet to be told.

Related to the foregoing, other eyebrow raising developments that footnote the said Biden and Hichilema one-on-one include the visit to Zambia in March 2023 by US Vice President Kamala Harris, during which there was further liaisons between the US and Zambia on ‘the situation' in Zimbabwe; particularly regarding the 2023 elections.

The list of ‘strange' activities that can only be explained with reference to the 2022 Biden and Hichilema one-on-one meeting include Zambia's receipt of arms shipped from the US, which arms have raised legitimate geopolitical concerns within the Sadc region, especially with Zambia's neighbours. Another issue that harks back to the Hichilema and Biden one-on-one in 2022 is Zambia's breaking of ranks with Sadc on the Russia-Ukraine war, and on Israel's widely condemned genocide in Gaza, about which Zambia has firmly aligned its positions with those of the US.

What is telling is that those making noise about Mnangagwa
's one-on-one meeting with President Putin, whose contents have been made public as per the verbatim statements reproduced herein, have been conspicuous by their silence on the undiplomatic things that President Hichilema has either said or done that have not only threatened Zimbabwe's national and security interests; but that also have been potentially harmful to Sadc's collective regional security interests, as outlined in the foregoing.

6. Given that the verbatim transcripts of the opening statements by the two heads of state and government at the ‘Russia-Zimbabwe Talks' in St Petersburg were released by the Kremlin immediately after their one-on-one meeting, the question must be asked as to why the Russians did this. Geopolitically, the answer or answers to this question, could very well be doctoral dissertations.

7. Meanwhile, one need not undertake a doctoral dissertation to surmise from a prima facie geopolitical reading of the transcripts of the respective opening remarks by President Mnangagwa and President Putin that, at the very least, the Kremlin saw an important opportunity to publish the two statements to effectively call out the US and to expose its hypocrisy: namely, that what the US accuses Russia of doing in West Africa; the US is in fact already doing in Southern Africa.

8. Conversely, it should stand to reason that from a Zimbabwean geopolitical point of view, the release of the two statements by the Kremlin should fortuitously send an important message to the US: that its longstanding policy of seeking to isolate Zimbabwe and its national leaders will not work; not least because Zimbabwe has important, powerful and strategic friends that matter in the geopolitical scheme of things – like Russia and indeed China – with whom it has historic, solidarity, political and diplomatic relations and ties that, as highlighted in the statement by President Putin, are deeply rooted in Zimbabwe's independence struggle against colonialism. When the US and its Western imperialist allies abused their positions in the United Nations by seeking to have the UN Security Council impose regime-change inspired sanctions in 2008 to isolate Zimbabwe and its national leadership, Russia and China vetoed the mischief in what was a powerful and emphatic double-veto. With the emergence of new progressive global entities like the BRICS, which countries like Zimbabwe want to and are expected to join, it is the US not Zimbabwe that risks being isolated.

9. While social media trolls can amuse themselves with frivolities, irrelevances and even falsehoods about the one-on-one meeting between President Putin and President Mnangagwa on ‘Russia-Zimbabwe Talks' in St Petersburg, there is no prize for guessing that discerning US policy strategists in Washington DC and at the Pentagon will read the transcripts of the statements delivered at the meeting by the two presidents, with a great deal of geopolitical concern: they will notice the obvious fact that the US machinations to isolate Zimbabwe – including by conniving with Zimbabwe's neighbours – is only serving to push Zimbabwe away from the US into the orbit of US competitors like Russia, China and the BRICS in general. This is what is crystal clear from an informed reading of the two statements released by the Kremlin.

10. Last but not least, the statement by Mnangagwa
 for and on behalf of the state not only conveys an honest and frustrating view about the disposition, some actions and utterances of the current Zambian leadership – especially in the run up to, during and after Zimbabwe's 2023 harmonised general election; but also, and more importantly, the statement makes it clear what the source of that frustration and disquiet is; namely, the machinations of the US from across Zimbabwe's northern border. Many things in international relations are possible and understandable even if unpalatable; but it's unfathomable and thus impossible to understand or to ignore the idea and the consequences of a having a next door neighbour working with an imperialist power to undermine your sovereignty to the detriment of your national and security interests; when you in fact have deep-seated historical, cultural, language and political ties with that neighbour!

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