Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Russia has threatened to punish Botswana for ‘unfriendly gesture’

At a time of its own choosing, Russia will punish Botswana and 56 other countries that abstained when the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.

It has emerged that ahead of the vote, Russia circulated a note that read in part: “It is worth mentioning that not only support for such an initiative, but also an equidistant position in the vote (abstention or non-participation) will be considered as an unfriendly gesture.”

“Equidistant” literally means at equal distances but as used by Russia, essentially means “having the same effect.” On that basis, while Botswana’s abstention might look like sitting on the fence, it actually had the same effect as a “yes” vote because it endorsed the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council. An outright “yes” would have openly antagonised Russia but Botswana – as 56 other countries – didn’t want to so openly antagonise Russia.

While Botswana could afford to antagonise Russia, it couldn’t do so with the United States, the main export market for its diamonds and one of its main donors. Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council came at the instance of the US, which also quietly exerted pressure on mostly Third World countries to do its bidding. The US voted “yes” and Botswana’s abstention was effectively also a “yes.”

Botswana-Russia relationship goes back to 1970 when the embassy of the Soviet Union and the High Commission of Botswana in London exchanged notes. In 1976, Russia opened an embassy in Gaborone while Botswana covers Russia from its embassy in Sweden and also an honorary consulate in Moscow. The relationship between the two countries has grown over decades – Norilsk Nickel, which mined nickel in Francistown, is a Russian company. However, the trade and economic cooperation between them is dwarfed many, many times over by that between Botswana and the US, which also extends to other areas. Botswana was one of the main beneficiaries of the he U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.

While it played the standard diplomatic game with the Human Rights Council, Botswana was more forthright in condemning Russia (via a UN General Assembly vote) after it invaded Ukraine. At this point, it is unclear how and when Russia will punish the “unfriendly gesture” of Botswana and other countries but it has made that much very clear.

The second part of Russia’s statement reads: “The position of each country will be taken into account both in the development of bilateral relations and in the work on the issues important for it within the framework of the U.N.”

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