Exclusive interview with the Russian ambassador on the occasion of Russia day

QUESTION: As we know, on June 12 the Russian Federation celebrates its National Day. Why on this date?

H.E. Mr. Valeriy Utkin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Namibia: On June 12 1990, the 1st Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (while it still was a part of the USSR) adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the RSFSR. The document declared the primacy of the Constitution and the laws of the Russian republic over the Soviet Union’s legislation, establishing equal rights for all citizens, political parties and non-governmental organisations, the principle of separation of powers into three branches namely, the legislative, executive and judicial and the necessity to substantially expand the rights of the regions. On June 11 1992, the Supreme Court of Russia published a decree designating June 12 as a public holiday. On June 12 1995, the holiday was celebrated for the first time. It also received the unofficial title of ‘Independence Day’. However, the holiday was officially renamed only on February 1 2002, when the new Labour Code came into force with all the official public holidays set out. Since 2001, Russia Day has been celebrated with fireworks in Moscow and in other cities around the country.

I would like to note that June 12, not only marks the proclamation of sovereignty but also symbolises the firm desire of the Russian society to develop further in a free, just and democratic state which is open for mutually beneficial, equitable and fruitful cooperation based on mutual respect, with all nations of the world.

It should also be mentioned that, June 12 celebration this year coincides with the year of Memory and Glory in Russia, declared by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, to preserve historical memory of the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, which has a great global significance and is celebrated on May 9. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the military parade on the Red Square to mark this significant date will be held in Moscow on June 24.   

The Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation recently made an Appeal to the parliaments of foreign countries and the nations of the world on the 75th Anniversary of the Victory over Nazism, which has been already endorsed by a number of parliaments all over the world as well as by inter-parliamentary organisations, to recognise the victory over Nazism as a common heritage of humanity and the monuments to those who fought against Nazism in all countries – as a world memorial of humanity.

Question: Namibia and Russia enjoyed excellent relations even before our country became independent three decades ago. How could you describe the current state of bilateral relations and its prospects?

Answer: We in Russia attach much significance to maintaining warm and friendly relations on different levels with Namibia, our reliable and time-tested partner. Since the beginning of the 1960s, Russia (then known as the Soviet Union) provided substantial all-round assistance to the Namibian patriots, who fought for national liberation under the guidance of the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and its leader Sam Nujoma. Our Namibian friends remember it very well and we in Russia have not forgotten the bravery and self-sacrifice of the SWAPO heroes and the role of the party in the struggle for freedom.

We appreciate the high level of Russian-Namibian political and diplomatic understanding, based on a common vision of the processes under way at the international arena. It is very important that views of Russia and Namibia on key issues of the global and regional agenda are close and are guided by respect to the basic principles of the international law, the central role of the UN and its Security Council in responding to global challenges, in countering international terrorism and extremism resolving other pressing issues. Namibia’s constructive line within SADC and well-balanced approaches in the UN, AU, other international organisations, deserve deep respect.

Russia and Namibia are committed to expanding bilateral cooperation, and have good prospects for joint efforts in various fields including agriculture, mining, trade, tourism, education, healthcare, fisheries as well as science and technology. Practical coordination of activities is vested into the Russian-Namibian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that has held its 8th Session in Windhoek. May 2019 plays an important role in identifying cross points of mutual interests, facilitating subsequent practical steps and evaluating progress achieved. We focus this work on gaining practical results in intensifying joint efforts to explore the potential available in the economic field, including reaching agreements on Russian investments in export-oriented projects in Namibia, in the field of agriculture and transport infrastructure.

There is also a number of other mutually beneficial ventures offered by the Russian Side in energy production, water desalination, ICT sphere etc, which are now under consideration of the Namibian side.

On the margins of the First Russia-Africa Summit (Sochi, October 23-24 2019) H.E. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation and H.E. Dr. Hage Geingob, President of the Republic of Namibia, held bilateral negotiations, evaluated highly the long-standing relations of friendship between the two countries and discussed ways to further expand the trade and economic cooperation.

Question: Will you brief us on the outcomes of the recent official visit to Namibia on February 19-21 2020 of H.E. Mrs. Valentina Matviyenko, Chairperson of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation?

Answer: The visit was an important event in the interstate and inter-parliamentary relations between Russia and Namibia. A wide range of issues were discussed with regards to our political dialogue, economic partnership and humanitarian links. H.E. Mrs. V. Matviyenko was received by H.E. Dr. Hage Gottfried Geingob, President of the Republic of Namibia, had fruitful deliberations with Hon. Bernard Songa Sibalatani, Chairperson of the National Council, and Hon. Prof. Peter Katjavivi, Speaker of the National Assembly. Also, she met with Rt. Hon. Dr. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia, and handed over the Russian humanitarian aid under the drought emergency appeal of the Namibian Side (450 metric tonnes of food supplies delivered to Walvis Bay earlier).

The two sides assessed highly the traditions of friendship and cooperation binding them and elaborated on expanding their links by joint efforts, in particular the sphere of relations between lawmakers of the two countries. The Russian delegation expressed sincere thanks for the warm hospitality, accorded by the Namibian hosts.

Question: Our readership is particularly interested in the current development of the Russian-US political dialogue. To be more exact, could you please tell us, how does the Kremlin estimate US President Donald Trump’s proposal to hold an expanded G7 summit with the participation of Russia and some other countries this autumn?

Answer: Speaking about current Russian-US political dialogue, we have no reason to doubt that President Donald Trump fully understands what the Americans and the US in general would gain from good relations between Russia and the US. That is, from relations that must not have any shade of concessions to one side or the other that must be based on a balance of interests, on pragmatism and mutual benefit.

In Moscow, we noted the US President’s opinion that he considers the G7 “a very outdated group of countries” that does not properly represent “what is going on in the world.” We agree. Our position on this matter is well known. It is impossible to deal with issues regarding global policy and the economy within the closed clubs of Western countries. It is objective reality. Therefore, the idea of an expanded G7 summit is in general a step in the right direction but does not really mean a true representation. For instance, it is obvious that it is hardly possible to implement serious global initiatives without China. We currently have an efficient, tried and tested format, G20, which includes G7, BRICS and other leading centres of economic growth and political influence of the entire world, not just one part of it.

Question: Are you satisfied with the situation in terms of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Namibia?

Answer: I think that the current state of our economic cooperation lags behind the opportunities available. Despite the fact that the trade turnover between Russia and Namibia increased to $11.7 million in 2019 as compared to $7.8 million in 2018, frankly speaking, I am not impressed by these figures. We need to continue working on expanding the scope of bilateral trade, identifying new opportunities, implementing advantageous projects, consolidating the legal basis of cooperation through concluding new line agreements. I believe there are good chances for Namibian products to enter the Russian market in higher quantities and vice versa.    

Question: In terms of training and human resources development in which areas can Russia assist Namibia?

Answer: Practically in every sphere. You know, today over 400 Namibian students are studying in universities across Russia: from the city of Kaliningrad on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the city of Makhachkala in the Caucuses Mountains, to the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk in Siberia. For the academic year 2019/2020 the Namibian quota for higher education in Russia (bachelor degree) at the expense of the Russian Federal budget includes 33 scholarships. Last year more than 50 Namibians became students in Russia on federal scholarships or on private educational contracts.

There are many ways to develop bilateral cooperation in the sphere of science and higher education – through joint researches, transfer of technologies, exchange of scientists and teachers, professionals and students, as well as exchange of scientific literature, periodicals and bibliographies. What is important is that Namibian students can choose any sphere of professional skills they wish to study in Russia.

Question: Could you make a comment on the state of relationships of the Russian Federation with African countries?

Answer: Today in Russia’s relations with Africa traditions of friendship and mutual respect continue to prevail and consolidate. Russia has diplomatic missions in more than 40 African states and there is a similar number of African embassies in Moscow. We go ahead with our intensive political dialogue, exchange of visits, promotion of trade, economic, cultural, educational, humanitarian cooperation, and antiparliamentary links.

Russia interacts with African regional organisations, including the African Union, SADC, ECOWAS, and IGAD etc. There is also a significant African component in the BRICS. We work closely with the African group in the UN, and believe that Africa should be properly represented in the UN Security Council.

Certainly, I should say a few words about the first Russia-Africa Summit, which took place on October 23-24, 2019 in Sochi, of which I had the honour to attend. This historic event welcomed delegations of all 54 African states, out of them 45 countries were represented by heads of state and government, as well as seven regional organisations, including the African Union and the African Export-Import Bank, were represented by the heads of their executive bodies. In Sochi, out of over 6 000 economic forum participants, more than 1 000 represented the African business community, and about 1 500 were Russian business executives. Official African delegations included around 2 000 members and 109 of them were government ministers. The forum was attended by more than 300 representatives of federal executive bodies of Russia, including two presidential envoys to Russia’s federal districts, 11 ministers and seven heads of Russian federal services and agencies. During the Summit and Economic forum in Sochi, Russia and African countries reaffirmed their great interest in the further development of interaction, deepening and intensification of Russian-African cooperation both at bilateral and multilateral levels.

Question: Could you please comment on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the international agenda?

Answer: No doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has become a major challenge for all countries and many international organisations. It should certainly compel us to ponder over what is happening in the world and also to understand how we should live in the future and how we should advance to ensure a peaceful, safe and stable future for all humankind.

It has long been clear, and the pandemic has confirmed it definitively, that we live in an interdependent and intertwined world. In the age of the free movement of people, capital, services and goods in the whole world, threats also move freely. We have faced terrorism, drug trafficking, other forms of organised crime, the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and now the threat of the pandemic that knows no borders and from which it is impossible to fence ourselves off.

What we now need is a global diplomatic concert where the UN plays a central coordinating part. We hope that the ongoing epidemiological crisis will help the world see that, there is no alternative to the UN-centric world order, which has passed the test of time and still has a huge margin of safety. The principles set out in the UN Charter are the unshakeable foundation of international communication in modern conditions.

Of course, everyone would like to leave the COVID-19 crisis behind as soon as possible. But we must also draw lessons from this global trouble; as for whether we draw the correct lessons, depends on every one of us.