The world was ushered into a new phase in February 2022, when the Russian Federation launched a special military operation in Ukraine. As indicated by key global economic players and watchers, the special military in Ukraine has hugely impacted the global economy.
Russia and Ukraine are producers of major commodities and the disruptions have caused global prices to soar. Food costs have jumped, especially wheat, for which Ukraine and Russia make up 30 percent of the global exports. In addition, neighbouring economies in particular are grappling with disrupted trade, supply chains, and remittances as well as an historic surge in refugee flows.
A week ago, I had the privilege to be hosted by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Sergei Berdnikov, in his office in Accra. We had a very engaging and insightful conversation on the current global geopolitical situation with focus on Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine and the growing relationship between the Russia Federation and Africa.
Q: Where do we stand currently with regards to Ghana–Russia bilateral relations?
A: Despite the current uneasy geopolitical and economic situation in the world, we maintain positive attitude to our bilateral relations and prospects for development in the field of trade and energy, as well as scientific and educational spheres. There is also some clarity regarding further relations in political and diplomatic aspects.
In general, though not so fast, we are moving forward. In particular, with regard to the outcomes of the Second Russia-Africa Summit, we are expecting to hold the 4th session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation in Accra this year.
Q: What are the key lessons and takeaways from the successful Russia-Africa Summit 2023?
A: Despite the efforts of a number of countries, my government has arranged an event that has no equal in scale and opportunities. The official delegation of the Republic of Ghana was represented by the Minister of National Security, Albert Kan-Dapaah, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Kwaku Ampratwum-Sarpong. I am sure that their participation in the summit will have a fruitful impact on strengthening relations between Moscow and Accra.
As for the lessons learnt from the summit, it revealed that with the appropriate political will, interstate relations have every chance to move up to a new stage. Meanwhile, that will can sometimes be dictated not by the government structures but ‘from below’ – by the business community.
Probably, one of the key features of this year’s Russia-Africa Summit was the participation of an impressive number of business delegations, which have once again demonstrated a real interest in establishing trade partnerships. However, our humble embassy issued more than 100 business visas.
Q: What is the agenda of the Russian Government in terms of its relationship and cooperation with the African continent?
A: The general mood for the development of interactions between Russia and Africa is rather huge. Thus, it was decided to hold Russian-African summits every three years. During the in-between periods, a dialogue partnership mechanism will operate, regular political consultations of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Russia, African countries and the leadership of the African Union will continue to work.
We see that an increasing number of countries are looking for a more just, multipolar world. The non-equilibrium model, which for centuries ensured the economic growth of colonial powers through exploitation of resources and territories in Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere, is irreversibly becoming history. The sovereignty is being strengthened and the competitive opportunities of non-Western world powers and regional leading countries are increasing. And Russia is ready to build relations with them on an equal basis.
Taking into account this trend, an updated Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation was approved by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, on March 31, 2023. The new document obtained a completely new section devoted to strengthening and deepening the Russian-African cooperation, fixing the drive for Africa at the strategic level.
Q: The world is divided over Russia’s operation in Ukraine. From your perspective, what culminated into the operation? Don’t you think diplomacy could have been employed instead of the operation?
A: The world was divided long ago not by the Russian special military operation, but by the United States and their NATO vassals who do not want to tolerate any country pursuing a sovereign policy. Let me remind you of the context that preceded the start of the operation.
Because of the coup in Ukraine on February 22, 2014, which was sponsored by the United States, Viktor Yanukovych, the democratically elected President, was overthrown. After that, outspoken neo-Nazis came to power. They began their rule with the bloody elimination of dissenters.
On May 2, 2014, the new Kiev regime burned 48 people alive in the Odessa Trade Unions House. This tragedy became a point of no return in the Ukrainian crisis. The population of the Crimea and Donbass refused to submit to terror and did not accept the overthrow of the legitimately elected president, whom they mostly voted for. After that, the pro-American Ukrainian government initiated the so-called anti-terrorist operation in the east of Ukraine, in fact, unleashing a civil war against its own population, which lasted almost 8 years.
It could have been stopped if Kiev had fulfilled the Minsk Agreements, which provided for the preservation of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as part of Ukraine with a special status, but apparently the Ukrainian neo-Nazis did not agree.
Russia insisted on a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian problem from the very beginning through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. But Kiev renounced its international obligations, preferred to continue the confrontation, simultaneously declaring its nuclear ambitions and intention to join the anti-Russian military bloc of NATO.
The continued expansion of NATO infrastructure along the Russian borders, open involvement of Ukraine in the anti-Russian policy of the West, continuous attempts by the United States to change the military-political situation in Europe in its favour at the expense of Russia’s strategic security could no longer be tolerated.
During the IX Moscow Conference on International Security on June 23, 2021, President Putin announced a new formula for security in Europe. NATO was suggested to develop a new “security equation”, which should take into account all factors affecting strategic stability. These proposals formed the basis for two draft agreements on security guarantees between Russia and the United States, and Russia and NATO. However, the alliance refused to consider our proposals for de-escalation, leaving my country no other option to defend itself, except by launching a military operation.
But even after the start of the special military operation, a diplomatic option
has always remained “on the table”. In March 2022, a series of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev on the development of confidence-building measures took place in Turkey. It resulted in the draft treaty ‘On permanent neutrality and security guarantees of Ukraine’. The agreement was initialled by the head of the negotiating team from Kiev.
However, after consultations of Mr. Zelensky with his curators in London and Washington, the agreement was rejected. It was Ukraine that announced its unwillingness to conduct further negotiations. Russia, on the other hand, has never ruled out this possibility.
Q: Will you describe the operation in Ukraine as legal or necessary?
A: Neither my position nor that of the Russian Government’s position on this issue has ever changed. The special military operation was an inevitable and forced measure, which had been initiated to ensure our state security and neutralise the dangers coming out of the Ukrainian regime for the reasons I have mentioned earlier.
It is absolutely legal since it was launched in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, 2022.
Q: The Ghanaian Government has attributed the economic hardship in Ghana to Russia’s operation in Ukraine following the COVID-19 pandemic. How has the operation affected the Russian economy, people and its relations with the rest of the world?
A: We have repeatedly heard these kinds of statements from Ghanaian and other African politicians. Our approaches differ significantly on this matter. The economy of Ghana suffers not from the conflict in Ukraine, but from the consequences of the US and EU sanctions imposed on Russia. Now because of them, Ghana cannot buy Russian fertilisers and agricultural and oil products in the same volumes and at the same prices as they were earlier. That immediately led to the increase of prices in the local market.
At the same time, these statements do not correspond to the official statistics. According to the Ghana 2022 Trade Vulnerability Report, Ghana’s total import in 2022 accounted for GH¢148.6billion while the Russian export to Ghana was around just GH¢1billion, constituting not more than 0.7 percent (less than 1 percent!). These figures prove that there is no critical dependence of the Ghanaian economy on Russian products as it has claimed.
Moreover, the 2023 West Africa Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank indicates that the major problem is not about the food supplies, but the energy crisis. According to bank’s research, the crude oil prices increased by an average of 20 percent.
In this regard, I am recalling the statement Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, the Chief Executive of the National Petroleum Authority, made in connection to an alleged shipment of the Russian oil to Ghana. I quote: “Let it be stated emphatically that Ghana is in with the international community on not doing business with Russia.” So, if you are not buying cheap Russian oil products directly, where do you get them? According to the afore-mentioned Trade Vulnerability Report, 42.2 percent of the mineral fuels and oils import is coming from the United Kingdom, 23.1 percent from the Netherlands, and 13.4 percent from Switzerland.
So if you hear people complaining about expensive petroleum, you should know Russia has nothing to do with that.
As for the second part of the question, after the withdrawal of major Western brands from the Russian market, the government initiated a number of programme solutions to extract the maximum benefit for the national economy out of that situation. In particular, two general things were carried out – the diversification of trade relations with new partners as well as the governmental support of Russian companies to ensure the domestic production and import substitution.
Q: How has Russia-Africa relations been in the light of the current operation?
A: The second Russia-Africa Summit was attended by the representatives of 49 out of 54 African states. For me, it is the best demonstration of the current level of the Russia-Africa relations. Meanwhile, Russia is realistic about the pressure our African friends
are experiencing from their North American and European ‘partners’ for maintaining good relations with Moscow and tries to help and ease this burden.
To be more specific, as my President announced at the Plenary Session of the Russia-Africa Summit, “in the next few months, next three to four months, we will be ready to provide, free of charge a supply of 25,000–50,000 tonnes of grain to the neediest countries in Africa; namely to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea, delivered at no cost”.
Russian producers of mineral fertilisers are taking steps to double their shipments
to African countries in the next five years to ensure their food security. They are also ready to engage in scientific and technical cooperation, exchanging experiences in the extraction and processing of mineral resources with African fertiliser producers to implement modern and efficient technologies in their own production processes.
Moreover, right now, 35,000 African students are studying at Russian universities and this number is growing every year. The quota for African students financed from the federal budget has increased by 150 percent over the past three years and will exceed 4,700 people in the next academic year.
With regard to Ghana, Russian Governmental quota for the local students has already been raised from 70 to 110 scholarships. I am sure this is just the first step; further quota expansions will not take long. Therefore, the prospects for the Russia–Africa relations seem bright.
Q: What should we expect as part of Russia-Ghana relations going forward?
A: As I mentioned before, we are looking forward for the renewal of the arrangements for the 4th session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation. I am sure that conducting of this event soon would lead to a practical implementation of the outcomes of the second Russia-Africa Summit
and long-awaited bilateral projects benefitting our people.
Q: Your final words?
A: Dear Ghanaians, in our turbulent times, it is extremely vital to know both sides of the coin before making any judgments. We are living under the constant stream of information, much of which is designed to lead us astray. But you can always check the official point of view of the Russian Federation on our X (former Twitter) and Telegram social networks.