Thursday, March 4, 2021

Did Russia threaten Botswana ahead of UN vote?

Ahead of a General Assembly vote at the United Nations last week, it is being alleged by the western press that Russia threatened some African countries that there would be grave consequences for voting the “wrong way” on a non-binding resolution to invalidate Crimea’s referendum on secession from Ukraine. Following such threat, some of those countries allegedly ended up abstaining from the vote. That should be of concern here because Botswana is a potential candidate for such threats and it ended up abstaining from the vote.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is a judo black belt who wins all his stage-managed public fights. In his memoirs, Robert Gates, the immediate past secretary of defence in the United States, says that, unlike George W. Bush who “saw someone I could do business with” when he looked in Putin’s eyes, he instead saw a “stone-cold killer.” At the UN level, however, threats made by big states against small ones are of a completely nature – they are not of physical violence but economic sanction.

Russia has made quite substantial investment in Botswana with the Norilsk Nickel, the country’s leading mining and metallurgical company, being the major investor here. When the company bought Tati Nickel Mine in 2007, its then chief executive officer, Peter Breese, said that the company would invest P4 billion in the project, adding about 2 per cent to Botswana’s GDP and 3 per cent to economic diversification. It is likely that Russia would have lobbied for the support of Botswana whose representative, Charles Ntwaagae, got to address the General Assembly after Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, tabled a non-binding text on Crimea.

The minister said that an integral part of his country had been forcibly annexed by a state that had previously committed itself to guaranteeing its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The offending state is Russia which three weeks ago, annexed Crimea after a hasty self-determination referendum that was a result of the Kremlin pulling strings from behind the scenes. Deploying more diplomatic language, the UN resolution says that the referendum was not authorised by Ukraine (which Crimea was part of) and “calls upon all states to desist and refrain actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including any attempts to modify Ukraine’s borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means.” While non-binding, this resolution portrays Russia in bad light and its representatives at the UN had to engage in some damage control.

Foreign affairs minister, Phandu Skelemani was not available for comment but supposing that Russia had indeed threatened Botswana, it is unlikely that he would have confirmed that any such thing happened. Zimbabwe, which has had a long and warm relationship with Russia, was the only African state that voted “no” while Botswana was one of the 58 nations that abstained from the vote.

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