Putin courts Africa and offers to mediate dam dispute

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) attend the first plenary session as part of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, on October 24, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2019

Putin courts Africa and offers to mediate dam dispute

  • El-Sisi and Abiy met Thursday, and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks “immediately” to reach a “final proposal” on the filling and operating of the dam
  • The summit in Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday sought to expand Moscow’s clout in Africa by touting military aid and economic projects at the first-ever Russia-Africa summit and even offered to help mediate a growing dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin addressed the issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in separate meetings on the sidelines of the two-day summit attended by leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries.
Peskov didn’t say whether Egypt and Ethiopia accepted the mediation offer, which the United States also extended in recent days after talks on the dam collapsed this month.
Some pro-government media in Egypt have cast the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and how it will affect Egypt’s share of Nile river water as a national security threat that could warrant military action. Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader this week declared that “no force” could stop the dam’s construction.
El-Sisi and Abiy met Thursday, and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks “immediately” to reach a “final proposal” on the filling and operating of the dam. Bassam Radi’s statement had no mention of mediation.
Ethiopia said Abiy and El-Sisi met about “issues of common concern” but gave no details.
The summit in Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa, while heads of state roamed through an expo center displaying military hardware.
Putin emphasized that developing stronger ties with the continent ranks among Russia’s top foreign policy priorities, noting that African nations have emerged as “one of important pillars of the multi-polar world.”
Russia’s annual trade with African nations doubled in the last five years to exceed $20 billion and Putin voiced confidence that it could double again “as a minimum” in the next four or five years.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided generous economic and military aid to many African countries amid global rivalry with the United States. Moscow’s influence withered after the 1991 Soviet collapse and Russia is still far behind the West and China in trade and investment in Africa, but it has capitalized on Soviet-era ties to widen its role in the continent’s affairs.
The Russian president emphasized Thursday that Russia and African nations should expand their cooperation in combating extremism, including exchange of information between security agencies.
Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier, and Putin noted that Russia now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations. He added that Moscow could expand training of military and security personnel from African nations.
“We hope that ... you will help us, in particular, to build up our armed forces,” said Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, according to a Kremlin account of his meeting with Putin. He spoke in the wake of an August power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, agreed to renew a lapsed military cooperation agreement with Russia which is expected to lead to more direct procurement of military equipment, President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said.
Nigeria also said it and Russia would work to improve the efficiency of Abuja’s all-important oil sector by establishing a framework for a joint venture between Nigeria’s state-owned oil company and Russia’s Lukoil that will include prospecting for oil “deep offshore.” The countries also agreed to solidify the venture between the NNPC and Russian gas giant Gazprom.
Other African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent.
“What stands Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, according to his spokeswoman. He spoke shortly after a pair of Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in his country on an unprecedented visit to the continent, reflecting Moscow’s new push for clout.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”