AFRICANGLOBE – Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has reportedly set his eyes on opening a Russian strategic military base in Zimbabwe, as Moscow ratchets up her new foreign policy in Africa spearheaded by a rash of military cooperation and arms deals across the continent.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, on the other hand is said to have reached out to his Russian counterpart, with the aim of securing a possible economic bailout package, as the economy continues to decline to stratospheric levels, characterised by fuel and cash shortages; a balance of payment crisis; exorbitant prices and extortionate taxes; coupled with doctors and teachers strikes, all but leaving Mnangagwa’s days in office in limbo, as the opposition lines up a series of mass revolts against his troubled administration.
Mnangagwa is off to Russia next week, and will visit four other nations which include: Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Switzerland for the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The presidency maintains that Mnangagwa’s expensive trip on a chartered luxury plane, is a campaign to intensify engagement and re-engagement efforts with the International community and foreign investors. Not much details about the reported Russian economic package have been released to the media, but government insiders say vice president, Rtd General Constantino Chiwenga, was initially sent to negotiate for the financial lifeline by Mnangagwa, when he visited Russia in August 2018, “to deliver a special message” to Putin from Mnangagwa.
The disclosures about the military base are sure to cause curiosity, and come on the backdrop of press reports yesterday from Moscow that, the Central African Republic (CAR) government is open to Russia setting up an army base on their soil, with CAR’s defense minister, Marie-Noëlle Koyara, confirming the development to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
Harare should Putin’s plan sail through will also join Eritrea and Somaliland, in playing host to Russian bases in their backyards.
Russia officially announced her intention to set up a naval base in Saylac, Somaliland, last April. A delegation from the Kremlin held talks with Somaliland for a 1 500 man base to support its warships and hunter-killer submarines to operate in the volatile region and busy shipping lanes that carry most of Europe’s goods.
Russia also signed an agreement with Eritrea in September 2018 for a planned Russian logistics base, which would give it access to the Red Sea, as Moscow officials crisscross from the Horn to the Great Lakes and Southern Africa.
The establishment of military bases abroad enable a country to among other things, project power, conduct expeditionary warfare, and thereby influence events abroad. Depending on their size and infrastructure, they can be used as staging areas or for logistical, communications and intelligence support.
According to highly placed military sources, the planned Russian military base might end up being built either in Kanyemba or Darwendale, where Russia has known mineral interests, although the exact location for the military installation is for now unknown.
Kanyemba District is home to Zimbabwe’s virgin uranium deposits, first discovered by German prospectors in the 1980s but remained untapped due to low world prices, and inconclusive feasibility studies of the mineral.
Darwendale now boast of the country’s biggest platinum mine, operated jointly between Harare and Moscow, through a company called Great Dyke, formed between the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and three Russian companies VI Holdings, Rostec, and Vneshconombank.
“This sensitive issue (army base) first came up when former leader, Robert Mugabe, visited Moscow to discuss implementation of the US$4 billion platinum mine deal made by Russian in Darwendale in 2015,” said one of the sources based at Gava Musungwa Zvinavashe Barracks in Masvingo.
“It was further deliberated on when their foreign minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Zimbabwe early last year, seeking military cooperation, diamond and platinum projects. Off course the meeting was not official as it involved Zimbabwe and Russian intelligence and military officials, that’s why it went unnoticed and unreported. Putin had just won re-election, therefore the military base discussions had his full attention. It makes sense because Moscow will become the biggest platinum miner in this country soon, and they also have prospector rights for uranium.”
A military attache formerly with the Zimbabwe Embassy in Ontario, Canada, said talk of the Russian military base is not new, as Moscow, just like Beijing and Washington has long-term strategic goals in Zimbabwe. The attache said Mnangagwa and Putin share a lot in common, as they were both at one time the intelligence chiefs of their countries before working up the ladder to be president.
“The planned Russian military base is not new and it dates back to several years back. Moscow just like Beijing and Washington also has long-term strategic goals to achieve in Zimbabwe. We now see movement because Mnangagwa and Putin share a lot in common, as they have led the intelligence services of their respective nations before earning the presidency. Information at hand suggests that Mnangagwa was told about the full military base plan, when he held a closed door meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the 10th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg , South Africa, in July 2018.”
Putin was once head of Russia’s KGB intelligence service now known as The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), while Mnangagwa was intelligence minister and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss at Independence in 1980.
In February 2017 Russia had reportedly undertaken to assist the country in securing and monitoring her airspace with top of the range military and radar technology. The military technology, is said to include capabilities of paralysing and/or hacking spy satellite activities. A spy satellite is an Earth observation satelite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications.
Last year Mnangagwa without mentioning the mooted Russian army base in Zimbabwe, told a Russian publication, Sputnik, in an interview that Harare and Moscow had amicable ties in defense, when asked if his administration was expecting new contacts with Russia in buying arms and defense systems.
“We have always had very amicable relations in that area of defense and security with Russia. We have historical relations in the area of defense and security. This will not only continue, but it will also be consolidated and deepened,” Mnangagwa said.
Russia made it’s biggest economic commitment to Zimbabwe to date, in September 2014, when it signed an agreement to invest US$4 billion in what will be Zimbabwe’s largest platinum mine.
The platinum mine in Darwendale near Harare, will see the installation of a refinery to add value, and is expected to produce 600,000 ounces of platinum a year when it reaches capacity.
Zimbabwe is the third largest platinum producer at 445 000 oz last year, behind South Africa and Russia, according to the World Platinum Investment Council.
Defence minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri’s office, promised to give us a detailed response when we made enquiries for an official government comment last night, but we had received no further feedback by the time of sending this story to bed.
There are no known foreign military bases in Zimbabwe thus far, expect for speculation of a Chinese airforce base believed to be hidden underground somewhere in the Marange diamond fields. Suspicion is also rife that the U.S might soon follow suit.
By: Itai Mushekwe, Nancy Mabaya And Mary-Kate Kahari