President to attend Russia Victory Day

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President Mugabe, Russia-bound, bids farewell to Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa (left) and Phelekezela Mphoko as Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi looks on at the Harare International Airport yesterday. – See story on Page 2. (Picture by Justin Mutenda)

Mduduzi Mathuthu Chronicle Editor
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will join 26 other Heads of State and Government in Russia tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany during World War II, his office confirmed. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko is Acting President.

President Mugabe, who is also the African Union and Sadc chairman, left Harare last night headed for the Russian capital Moscow where he will join other invited world leaders, among them Chinese President Xi Jinping, India’s Pranab Mukherje, Cuban President Raul Castro and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

President Mugabe’s spokesperson Mr George Charamba said: “This is a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazism. It’s a world event and the President is going there representing Africa.”

Mr Charamba said President Mugabe would use the opportunity to follow up on recent trade and investment agreements with Russia.

“That’s our main focus, apart from the ceremonial side of this visit,” Mr Charamba said, revealing that the President’s stay in Russia would last until May 11. “Ordinarily, we would’ve returned home after two days but the President has asked for elongation.

“We intend to engage Russian business leaders and get some new and old deals finalised. There’s a lot of on-going contact between our ministers and the Russians.”

On a visit to Zimbabwe last September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov inked a US$3 billion deal to jointly mine platinum in Darwendale. The project would create 8 000 new jobs and see production of nearly 600 000 ounces a year.

The deal provided for the establishment of a refinery, which would bring the total investment to about US$4 billion.

Three miners already operating in the country – Zimplats, Mimosa and Unki – have a combined output of 430 000 ounces a year. Representatives of Russian banks, including Vnesheconombank, signed the agreements to finance the project.

On Moscow’s Red Square tomorrow, Russia will stage a military parade in what President Vladimir Putin called a display of “respect for victims of Nazis and to pay tribute to the… victors over Nazism.”

Leaders of European Union countries and the United States have declined to attend, citing Russia’s backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine. But there would be representation. France, for instance, is sending its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

“This is the personal choice of every political leader and the decision of the country they represent,” Putin said. “Some are unwilling to do so and some are prohibited to do so by the ‘Washington Obkom’ and told they should not go – although many would like to.”

The ‘Obkom’ is a Soviet term for a Communist Party committee and President Putin appeared to suggest states which peeled off the Soviet Union after the Cold War take orders from the United States.

Putin, preparing for the largest ever display of Russia’s might, emphasised the Russian stance that Soviet troops were responsible for victory in the war in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens were killed.

“We’re celebrating our holiday. This is our holiday. We’re paying respect to the generation of victors,” Putin said.

May 9 has long been the most revered holiday in Russia, bringing together people of all generations and political views. Putin uses patriotism to rally the nation as the economy suffers under Western sanctions. “It’s the only opportunity for the nation to assert itself. There’re no other foundations for national pride left,” said sociologist Lev Gudkov, director of the independent pollster Levada Center. “This is the triumph of the Soviet Union over Hitler’s Germany, and at the same time the West. It’s a declaration of might, the transformation into a superpower.”

Russia will roll out its revitalised military arsenal, including its new Armata T-14 tank – the first new tank Russia has built since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.