The Russian Federation is taking a rising interest in the African continent. Russia’s interest will take a new turn next October in the context of the Russian Federation and the African Summit scheduled to take place in Sochi near the Black Sea. Konstantin Klimovskiy, ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation in Mauritius, tells us why this event is so important for both Russia and Africa. He also addresses the Chagos Archipelago issue and some features of the multi-faceted relations between the Russian Federation and Mauritius.
What will be the general impact of this summit?
The Russia-Africa Summit promises to be the most important event that will contribute to consolidate the Russian presence in the region, both in political, trade and economic fields as well as in other areas of cooperation. Leaders of all states of the continent are invited without exception to take part in the Summit which will be held in the capital of the 2014 Olympic Games. It will also be attended by heads of African public and regional organizations. Several events will be held within the framework of the Summit such as the Russian- African Economic Forum, the Digital Forum, the inter-Parliamentary Conference and the meeting of shareholders of the African Export-Import Bank.
Commercial exchanges and their scope of development is one of the fields where the cooperation between the two countries is usually assessed. What is in the pipeline in order to boost commercial exchanges between the Russian Federation and the African Continent?
According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, the total volume of Russian exports to Africa from 2010 to 2017 almost tripled from $5.1 to $14.8 billion. The expert community believes that the Summit will give an incentive for growth and diversification of economic cooperation between Moscow and African countries. Within the framework of the event, a large number of agreements in the trade, economic and investment fields as well as a variety of multilateral documents is planned to be signed.
Even if it can be easily compared to a point in a flickering position amongst the waves of the Indian ocean, Mauritius has recently hit the headlines of the world attention when the United Nation’s highest court delivered an opinion in its favour ordering the United Kingdom to surrender its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. What is the stand of the Russian Federation on that issue?
Our country is closely monitoring the situation around Chagos. As it is known, the USSR and later Russia, consistently adheres to the principles of the International Law and, in particular, the right of people to self-determination, made a significant contribution to the decolonization process, supporting the people of Africa and Asia in their struggle for Independence. Russia, as a successor state to the USSR, cannot remain indifferent to the fact that, as a result of Britain’s actions, the process of the decolonization of Mauritius has not yet been completed. London’s postcolonial policy is unacceptable and incompatible with basic human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination. The United Nation Committee on Human Rights in its reports in 2001 and 2008 has repeatedly outlined that the British party should ensure that the indigenous people of Chagos have the right to return to their island, noting the illegality of the prohibitions imposed by the British authorities. However, justice with respect to Chagos refugees has not yet been restored.
The surrendering of the sovereignty on the Chagos to Mauritius might, in UK’s assessment of the situation, not be as easy as it is decided within the four walls of a legal entity. What is Russia’s views on the policy adopted by London on this issue up to now?
I would like to emphasize once again that the policy of London with regard to the Chagos Archipelago is clearly colonial in nature, unacceptable in its essence and incompatible with basic human rights and the people’s right to self-determination. I would like also to pinpoint that the resolution 1514 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1960 provides for the transfer of all power to the people of the territories to be decolonized without any conditions and in accordance with their free will. Moreover, it is especially emphasized that any attempt to violate their national unity and territorial integrity is incompatible with the goals and principles of the UN Charter. The Russian Federation fully agrees with the position of Mauritius, supported by the majority of the countries of the world community, that the process of decolonization of your country is not complete until the territory of the archipelago remains under British administrative control.
Russia is amongst the very first nations to establish diplomatic relation with Mauritius when it moved to the status of an independent nation in 1968. What is the scope of development as regards the Russian-Mauritian bilateral relations?
Russia and Mauritius are united by longstanding and traditionally friendly relations. Our country, as you have just mentioned, was one of the first to recognize the independence of Mauritian State. Last year, we commemorated two significant dates: the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of Mauritius and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries At present, Russia and Mauritius are making a lot of efforts to give a qualitatively new dimension to our economic and humanitarian cooperation. Thus, in the summer of 2018 in Moscow, a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Central Bank of Russia and the Mauritius Financial Services Commission was signed. In the autumn of the same year, the second Mauritius-Russia Economic Forum was held in Port-Louis, organized by the Economic Development Board and the Embassy of Mauritius in Russia with the support of the Russian Embassy in Mauritius.
What are the main features of the follow-up process set up after the Russia Economic Forum held in Port- Louis last year?
Following the results gathered from the Forum, different projects are being elaborated in the field of machine-tool building, agriculture, fertilizers, industrial oils, sea-bikes, import of rum and coffee to Russia. There is an interest for investments in energy related projects and software development. The very important field of waste management is also being considered. Another avenue for cooperation is luxury real estate. In a couple of months, we expect a recurrent visit to Mauritius of some Russian businessmen who took part in the Forum in November 2018.
Tourism is one of the many fields where economic interaction is rather dynamic. What is being entertained to foster new impetus of development tothis sector?
Thanks to the efforts being made by both sides to develop and popularize this area. The number of Russian tourists who visited Mauritius in the three first months of this year increased by 10% compared to the same period last year. Most recently, a large group of Mauritian tour operators visited Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. As a result of this trip, there was a significant increasing interest of Russians to visit Mauritius, so I hope that in May 2019 this tendency will continue. Transition to the kite surfers Mauritius-Reunion, carried out by Russian and Mauritian athletes in November 2018 made a contribution, and received wide coverage in the Russian press, which additionally attracted the attention of Russians to your wonderful island.
The Russian market seems to move very slowly up the slope. What should be done to increase and to arouse the interest of potential Russians to visit Mauritius?
The two unescapable paths are firstly to establish direct flights between Mauritius and Moscow and to reinforce the promotion campaign in Russia in favour of Mauritius as a tourist destination. Russians need to know Mauritius. Only an aggressive promotion campaign can help in moving up the interest of Russian for Mauritius. Mauritius is still not a well-known destination in Russia.
Have you witnessed any progress on that count?
It is clear that in order to capture further development of cooperation at the market of tourist services, it would be desirable to have direct flights between our countries. However, there hasn’t been any progress for either Air Mauritius or the Russian company Aeroflot. They have unfortunately not found an acceptable option for resuming flights between our countries.
Even if you assert that the relations between the two countries are friendly, there is however a dilemma stemming out from the Medical Council’s refusal to recognize diplomas obtained by Mauritian students graduated and trained from any institution from Russia. Does the statu quo still prevail or is there a way out of this situation?
The Medical Council does not want to accept doctors graduated from any medical institution in Russia. We have explained tothe ministry of Health how the health system in Russia works. We even sent a list of all the institutions from Russia dealing with the training of doctors. Our argument is the following : should the whole medical system be condemned if some students who graduated in Russia fail to pass successfully the Medical Council assessment? We fail to understand how people graduated from Russia have been banned from recognition by the Medical Council whereas in the past, many Mauritian doctors practicing in Mauritius have been trained in Russia. We cannot understand why suddenly the Medical Council has decided to exclude medical institutions from the list of institutions it recognizes for providing valuable training for doctors. However, given the good relationship between our countries, we will do our best to find out a solution.
Some years ago, Russians were fully involved in the development of the fisheries sector in Mauritius. This activity has slowed down...
Several years ago, the Federal Agency for Fisheries offered some licence to many Mauritian enterprises dealing with fish and fish production. Unfortunately, there has not been any follow-up. It means that no production has been sent to us. I cannot explain why. Probably there might have been some shortages of fish production. However, what I have observed is that there is still an interest in this field, specially because during the Soviet Union period, this cooperation was very intense. Some months back, both sides started to elaborate a a memorandum of understanding in this field. The project includes not only issues related to fisheries but also scientific researches and, altogether, the setting-up of training programmes. I hope that in the near future, this venture will be finalised and signed. Moreover, Premdut Koonjoo, minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping has been invited to attend the third Global Fishery Forum & Seafood Expo that will be held from the 10th to the 11th of July at the Expoforum, Saint Petersburg. If both the Russians and the Mauritians manage to finalise the memorandum project before the forum is held, the document could then be signed during the event. If not, it would be done at a later stage. I am very optimistic that the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding will be the very first step that will be followed by a series of initiatives with a view to foster our cooperation in the field of fisheries and scientific researches where we have gathered a fair amount of expertise.
There has been numerous marriages between Mauritians who graduated in Russia and Russian women adding to the already crossbred rainbow nation of Mauritius, the Russian flavour. How many Russians are now living in Mauritius?
The number should turn around 400 individuals. This phenomenon has been developed into two distinct periods. The first period happened in the seventies and the eighties. The second one occurred in the year 2000.The children and grand-children have thus got double nationality.
Where are these Russians offering their services in the economic field of Mauritius?
They are in various sectors of the Mauritian economy: tourism, health, business and education sectors, amongst others. More recently, the Watersports Club is bringing to Mauritius a special kind of tourists. They are those people who would cover many kilometres just to enjoy kitesurfing. Mauritius is getting momentum in attracting this category of tourists. Thanks to this company set up by Russians, some 200 of individual from Russia come over here twice a year to do kitesurfing. Some of these tourists are rich businessmen or, for example, professional footballers. Most of them would stay in luxury hotels, thus adding some specific value to the tourism sector.