By Kaleyesus Bekele
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is scheduled to visit Ethiopia next month, The Reporter has learnt.
According to sources, Lavrov will come to Addis Ababa for a two-day official visit at the end of September. Sources said that the foreign minister will be accompanied by a large Russian business delegation and the purpose of the official visit is to strengthen economic and political ties between Ethiopia and Russia.
Lavrov will meet with the President of the republic, Mulatu Teshome (Ph.D.), Prime Minister Hailemaraim Desalegn, Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom (PhD) and other senior government officials and discuss bilateral issues. Bilateral agreements are expected to be signed. Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Ethiopia will be the second one. He first came to Addis Ababa in 2006.
Sources said Russian manufacturing, energy and oil and gas companies executives will be part of the large business delegation. “Russian companies have shown keen interest to engage in the manufacturing, energy, oil and gas exploration sectors,” sources said.
Last month a Russian company, GBP Global Resources, signed an oil exploration agreement with the Ministry of Mines. The company plans to prospect for oil and gas in the Afar Regional State.
Russians are not new to the Ethiopian oil exploration sector. During the socialist era, Soviet Petroleum Exploration Expedition (SPEE) was prospecting for oil and gas in the Ogaden basin in the 1980s. Russians were involved in the mining sector too. It was Russian Geological Survey that discovered the Kenticha tantalum deposit in Borena Zone, Oromia Regional State. They also discovered the Legedembi primary gold reserve, which MIDROC Gold is currently mining. Having this rich experience on the Ethiopian oil and mineral exploration sectors more Russian companies now want to come back to Ethiopia.
Russian companies want to develop hydropower projects in Ethiopia. Sources said the Russian delegation will meet the minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu, to discuss the investment opportunities in the energy sector.
There are more than 30 Russian companies involved in investments in Ethiopia. Russian companies are also interested in the Ethiopian national railway network development. The Ethiopian government anticipates to secure a loan from the Russian government for railway line construction.
Russia is also a major arms supplier to the Ethiopian army. The Ethiopian Air Force and ground forces are equipped with Russian military hardware.
Ethiopia exports agricultural products to Russia. The Ethiopian flower exporters are contemplating to start directly accessing the Russian floriculture market. So far Russians buy Ethiopian flowers from the Netherlands. Ethiopian Airlines is in the process to launch passenger and cargo flights to Moscow.
Efforts to get a comment from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Addis Ababa was not fruitful. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dina Mufti (Amb.) confirmed Lavrov’s visit.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia and Russia have longstanding historical relations going back to the period of the Russian Czar Machilovich, the father of Peter the Great, in the 17th century. It is also recorded that Alexander Pushkin, a renowned Russian writer, was a grandson of Abraham Hannibal, an Ethiopian boy who was presented to Peter the Great by Suleiman the Magnificent. He was baptized in Vilnius, Lithuania, by Peter the Great on his return from defeating the Swedes. Other early contacts between Russia and Ethiopia include the visit of an Ethiopian delegation sent by the Emperor Menelik II to Russia, and visits of several Russians to Ethiopia during Menelik’s reign, at least one of whom was given the title of Dejazmatch for his travels on behalf of the Emperor along Ethiopia’s southern boundaries. These contacts laid the foundation for close relations of the two countries, based on mutual respect and friendship between the two peoples. And it is notable that regardless of the differing political systems that existed at various times, relations between them have continued close and friendly. One demonstration of that friendship has been that Russia has always, and without fail, stood with Ethiopia whenever the sovereignty of Ethiopia was threatened. Russian solidarity with Ethiopia was first illustrated when the Russian Red Cross Society came to Ethiopia in 1896, at the time of the Battle of Adwa when Italy attempted to attack the country. It made an outstanding contribution in the provision of medical supplies at Menelik Hospital and care to the Ethiopian patriots on the battlefield and subsequently. Again, during the fascist invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, Russia was one of those countries which stood in solidarity with Ethiopia. It has done so on every occasion throughout the 20th century whenever Ethiopia faced challenges to its sovereignty and its core national security interests. In short, the bonds that exist between Ethiopia and Russia have stood the test of time and proven their strength time and again.
The most important historical landmarks of Ethio-Russia historical relations visible in Addis Ababa are the large plot of land granted for the construction of a Russian mission after the Battle of Adwa, where the Russian Embassy is still located, and the establishment of the Russian Hospital, now the Balcha Memorial Hospital. Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Russia were upgraded to Embassy level when both countries opened their respective embassies in Addis Ababa and Moscow in 1956. While relations between Ethiopia and Russia continued throughout the Imperial era, they were much closer during the Marxist, military regime of the Derg when both counties belonged to the same ideological camp. With the change of government in Ethiopia and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), relations were placed on a different footing, but they remained warm and friendly.
In recent years, there have been increased exchanges of visits of high level officials between the two countries. Major visits have included former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s trip to Moscow in December 2001 and the then Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin in November 2007. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, visited Russia in August and October 2011 respectively.
From the Russian side former Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, came to Ethiopia in September 2002; and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came here in September 2006.