Source: TASS interview with Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East, member of RIAC. The following is a machine translation from the Russian original, February 27, 2023.
Given the behavior of Washington and the so-called collective West in relation to sovereign states, the danger of Western states inciting various armed groups to overthrow the incumbent authorities is very high. Paris, for example, has been doing everything possible for a long time to eliminate the transitional government of Mali that it dislikes. On May 16, 2022, the Malian government released a statement about a coup attempt thwarted on the night of May 11-12, carried out by a group of mid-level military “with the support of one of the Western states” (France). For anti-Russian propaganda, various dirty methods and means are used, ranging from unfounded accusations of the Armed Forces of Mali and Russian instructors of violating international humanitarian law and human rights.
As for the Central African Republic (CAR), Paris, losing its political influence there, is curtailing its presence and suspending programs to provide it with financial and economic assistance. The French have blocked imports of various types of fuel into the CAR, which negatively affects the socio-economic situation of this country.
There are numerous reports that illegal armed groups are operating on the territory of the CAR rely on organizational and financial support from the former colonial masters, and recently Europeans were seen among the militants among the militants for the first time, who, as the CAR believes, may be Western instructors or mercenaries. We believe that such actions in relation to sovereign states are unacceptable.
Bogdanov’s Interview with TASS
Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in a special interview with TASS, spoke about the attempts of the West to disrupt the Russia-Africa summit, the “unsportsmanlike” behavior that Washington demonstrates on the continent, as well as Moscow’s plans to further promote cooperation with African partners .
TASS: The United States and EU countries , primarily France , have recently been constantly declaring the allegedly increased activity of Russia in Africa and threatening to do everything to weaken Russian influence on the continent . Are there any fears that the West will soon arrange armed clashes , for example , in the Central African Republic , Mali or other countries , with the aim of overthrowing the existing governments there, will this hit Russian interests?
Bogdanov: “Given the behavior of Washington and the so-called collective West towards sovereign states, the risk of Western states inciting various armed groups to overthrow the current authorities is very high. Paris, for example, has been doing everything possible for a long time to eliminate the transitional government of Mali that it dislikes. On May 16, 2022, the Malian government released a statement about a coup attempt thwarted on the night of May 11-12, carried out by a group of mid-level military “with the support of one of the Western states” (France). For anti-Russian propaganda, various dirty methods and means are used, ranging from unfounded accusations of the Armed Forces of Mali and Russian instructors of violating international humanitarian law and human rights.
As for the Central African Republic (CAR), Paris, losing its political influence there, is curtailing its presence and suspending programs to provide it with financial and economic assistance. The French block the import of various types of fuel into the CAR, which negatively affects the socio-economic situation of this country.
There are numerous reports that illegal armed groups operating on the territory of the CAR rely, among other things, on organizational and financial support from the former colonial masters, and recently Europeans were seen among the militants among the militants for the first time, who, as the CAR believes, may be Western instructors or mercenaries. We believe that such actions in relation to sovereign states are unacceptable.
TASS: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier announced an agreement in principle to connect Iran to the trilateral format Russia-Turkey-Syria, designed to normalize relations between Ankara and Damascus. What meetings and at what level are currently being worked out within the framework of the appropriate format? How long can they take? How does Moscow assess the prospects of this format?
Bogdanov: The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, during a recent joint press conference in Moscow with his Egyptian counterpart Shukri, expressed our support for Iran’s participation in the work to promote the normalization of interstate relations between Syria and Turkey. This would make it possible to use the potential accumulated within the framework of the “Astana Process” that has proved its effectiveness. On the agenda now is the organization of a meeting of the heads of foreign affairs agencies in a quadripartite format. Its modalities and terms are being worked out.
We believe that if our common efforts are successful, not only will it be possible to avoid a large-scale Turkish military operation in northern Syria, but there will also be additional opportunities to ensure a comprehensive settlement in this country, including rectifying the humanitarian and economic situation.
TASS: Does the Russian side have information that the United States is trying to put pressure on African states on the issue of participation in the Russia-Africa summit ? How many countries have already confirmed their participation , and at what level?
Bogdanov: Indeed, the United States and its allies are waging an unprecedented campaign to isolate Russia politically and economically, including disrupting the holding of the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July. Since the beginning of the special military operation, the “collective West” has significantly increased pressure on African countries through the threat of sanctions and the termination of financial and humanitarian assistance. On a daily basis, the Americans fabricate accusations against us of “the coming famine”, the increase in prices for fuel, grain and fertilizers and, as a result, the aggravation of socio-economic problems on the continent.
However, in the traditions of Russian diplomacy, which has a long history, it is to take into account all possible external factors, promote its own agenda, and put the state interests of Russia and its friends at the forefront. And we do not intend to deviate from this course.
Our country resolutely upholds the principle of free choice of the development path of sovereign countries, which is the key idea of the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit. Currently, preparations for the event are in full swing, and its agenda is being worked out together with the Africans. We are receiving confirmation of participation in the upcoming summit from the leaders of the states of the continent, and this is a signal for us of principled support from a significant bloc of countries, despite the colossal pressure from the West.
TASS: Lavrov said that Russia is now accumulating proposals and initiatives from African partners that have come in for the Russia-Africa summit . How active have they been in putting forward these initiatives ? Are there any among them that will help bring Russia’s partnership with the African continent to a new level following the results of the summit ?
Bogdanov: One of the main tasks of the visits of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to a number of African countries in January-February of this year was to receive “first-hand” proposals from our friends for the summit. All of them, of course, are carefully taken into account and analyzed. In addition, there is a constant dialogue with the African diplomatic corps in Moscow. The fundamental difference between our approach and the Westerners is that it is unacceptable for us to achieve any goals to the detriment of the legitimate interests of a partner. The upcoming summit in St. Petersburg is a common “brainchild” of Russia and Africa, and therefore work on the content of the upcoming summit meeting is being carried out jointly.
On the whole, the numerous proposals of African states correspond to our conceptual vision of the future forum. Priority is given to the transfer of technology and expertise, the development of industry and critical infrastructure on the continent. Among other things, Russia’s participation in industrialization, digitalization, energy, agriculture, and mining projects in Africa is being discussed. The most important issue on the agenda of the summit will be the problem of ensuring food and energy security. The aforementioned topics are designed to give a powerful impetus to Russian-African mutually beneficial equal cooperation.
I would like to single out one of the main areas of our partnership – the training of national personnel. A number of African states are in favor of increasing scholarships for the education of their citizens in Russian universities in priority specialties, and the implementation of joint initiatives in the fields of education and science. In this regard, I would like to note the appeal of the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Russia, Ivan Vangu Ngimbi, who, on behalf of his government and with the support of the entire African diplomatic corps, called for the speedy return of the Patrice Lumumba RUDN University, which would become a symbol of close educational and scientific ties between our countries . I believe that a positive resolution of this issue will serve as an important signal to our partners that Russia is returning to Africa, and Africa to Russia.
TASS: Does Moscow intend to increase arms supplies to African countries this year , have new agreements been concluded ? Did the volume of deliveries decrease against the background of the special operation carried out by Russia?
Bogdanov: I can only confirm that work in the military-technical sphere with African countries is certainly being carried out. Russia is ready to cooperate with all our African friends who are interested in strengthening their national armed and law enforcement forces, increasing their level of combat capability, including in order to effectively combat the terrorist threat, which has been exacerbated in the past decade due to the well-known destructive events of the “Arab Spring” in North Africa.
TASS: After the African tour of Sergey Lavrov, representatives of a number of Western countries , as well as China , Turkey, reached out to the continent . Why has the attention of Africans become so dear to the world ? Is it possible to say that this is such a struggle for Africa ? Are we winning it ? Who is China for Russia in Africa : a partner , a competitor?
Bogdanov: “Unfortunately, this is not about attention, but about the desperate attempts of the “collective West” to preserve its neo-colonial empire, which for many years allowed them to ignore the sovereignty of African, and not only, countries and continue to plunder their population. Today, especially after the roads of Russia and the West parted through no fault of ours, Western countries are faced with the urgent need to replenish the lost volumes of vital resources to maintain their industry and develop the economy, and preferably at minimal cost. Their goal now is to solve, one might say, existential issues. This can be seen from the tools they use, mostly “unsportsmanlike”: “laws” to limit Russia’s activities in Africa, sanctions, stop lists, threats, blackmail.
The policy of Russia, as well as China, Africa’s time-tested partners, is pragmatic, naturally based on a balance of national interests. We are building equal relations, respecting the sovereignty of foreign states, their inalienable right to determine their own domestic and foreign policy. At the same time, healthy, fair competition never interferes. This is the main difference between the fundamental approaches of Russia and the former Western metropolises.
In economic terms, we have something to offer our African friends. In addition to the traditional areas of interaction since the times of the USSR, which are geological exploration, oil, gas and chemical industries, mining, agriculture, fisheries, there has recently been a movement towards high technologies. In some African countries, domestic assembly plants are opening, cooperation in the space sector, ICT, and in the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes is developing positively.
Who in their approaches is on the right side of history, will show not so distant time.
TASS: Earlier, the special representative of the President of Russia for the Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev, said that the summit of Russia, Iran and Turkey in the “Astana format” could be held in mid-2023 in Sochi. Is a meeting at the level of foreign ministers being worked out on the eve of this event? In the current conditions in the Syrian direction, how is our economic cooperation with Damascus developing? Which Russian companies are involved in Syria’s early reconstruction projects? Does Russian business still have interest in such work, given the difficult situation amid sanctions against Moscow?
Bogdanov: A meeting of heads of state is always preceded by serious preparation and careful work. As a rule, consultations are held with the heads of foreign affairs agencies. I think that the next summit of the “Astana Troika” will not be an exception.
Russian-Syrian economic cooperation during the years of the crisis in the SAR did not stop for a day. These issues are under the jurisdiction of the Permanent Russian-Syrian Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. Its Russian part is currently headed by the Minister of Construction, Housing and Communal Services of the Russian Federation, Fayzullin, and the Syrian part, by the Minister of Presidency of the SAR, Azzam. The next meeting of the IPC is being prepared.
Under the conditions of total restrictions imposed against Damascus by the “collective West”, our cooperation with Syria has been and remains the most important factor in the viability of the Syrian economy. As part of efforts to develop bilateral cooperation, Russian companies are implementing projects in the industrial, energy and oil and gas sectors, in the field of mining, reconstruction and modernization of transport, logistics and utility infrastructure.
After the introduction by the “collective West” of tough sanctions against the Russian Federation in the context of their anti-Russian activity, the interest of Russian business in working with Syrian partners not only remains, but also increases. If earlier some of our businessmen could hesitate for fear of falling under Western restrictions, in particular, the action of the notorious American “Caesar Act”, which provides for punishment for everyone who cooperates with the government of the SAR, now that all Russia, these fears are irrelevant.
As for the “early recovery” you mentioned, that’s not our term. It is used, first of all, by the UN as a palliative, allowing them to justify at least some actions to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria at a time when Western donors categorically refuse to allocate funds for a full-fledged post-conflict reconstruction of this country and forbid their companies to participate in it.
TASS: What are the prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement in conditions when the Middle East “quartet” of international mediators has not been working for a long time?
Bogdanov: Regardless of whether the Quartet is working or not, Russian diplomacy continues to vigorously assist in preparing the conditions for the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli political settlement process. The activities of the Quartet have not been frozen on our initiative. It is being blocked under various far-fetched pretexts by the United States and the European Union, which seek to divert the focus of the world community’s attention from the Middle East and other regional crises. We consider such an approach to be unacceptable, as it only exacerbates the problems. Recent events in the West Bank of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem, have once again clearly demonstrated this.
Despite the tense international situation, Russia retains its main asset – friendly and constructive relations with Palestine and Israel, as well as with all the states of the region, with which we maintain a regular dialogue on a wide range of issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. The countries of the Middle East and North Africa trust our foreign policy course and firmly know that Russia consistently adheres to its principled approaches to regional issues based on a universally recognized legal platform, primarily on the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
As for the “quartet” consisting of Russia, the US, the EU and the UN, we have repeatedly voiced our position on this matter. Even in the current geopolitical conditions, we call for the resumption of the work of this unique mechanism of diplomatic support for a Middle East settlement. We are convinced that obstruction of the activities of the Quartet has a direct negative impact on the state of affairs “on the ground” and plays into the hands of the forces interested in fomenting a new full-scale Palestinian-Israeli military confrontation. Just as harmful are the US attempts to undermine collective interaction and monopolize the role of a “mediator.” The track record of Americans in this regard is widely known:
TASS: As the Minister of Oil of the Libyan Government of National Unity Oun said earlier, Tripoli invites Russian oil companies to return to negotiations with the Libyan National Oil Corporation. Are there consultations on this? Is there any interest on the part of Russian business?
Bogdanov: Libyan officials in the course of contacts with us have repeatedly raised the issue of resuming the activities of Russian companies in Libya. Russian-Libyan cooperation has rich experience accumulated over decades. Prior to the events of 2011, many Russian economic operators worked in this country. Among the largest projects, I will name the contracts of Gazprom Neft PJSC and Tatneft PJSC for the development of hydrocarbon fields.
Unfortunately, after the aggression of the NATO bloc in Libya, almost all foreign companies, including Russian ones, were forced to curtail their activities, and their personnel to leave the country. Nevertheless, Russian organizations remain interested in returning to the Libyan market. In turn, we intend to encourage a similar attitude of our economic operators as the military-political situation in the country improves and proper conditions are created there to ensure the safety of Russian specialists.
We will also be ready to join in the post-conflict reconstruction and development of the basic Libyan economic infrastructure through the implementation of major joint projects, and not only in the energy sector.
We plan to resume the work of the Russian Embassy in Tripoli in the near future. Moreover, we are planning to open our Consulate General in Benghazi. We expect that the restoration of our diplomatic presence in Libya will help advance Russian economic interests in that country.
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