Russia seeks military cooperation, diamond, platinum projects in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa walks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
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HARARE (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday his country was pursuing military cooperation with Zimbabwe and looking at opportunities in the diamond sector as well as fully implementing a $3 billion joint platinum project near Harare.

Lavrov, who is on a tour of Africa, held meetings with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and senior government officials, and signed an agreement to establish a special economic zone for Russian firms to manufacture goods for export.

“We have also talked about prospects for military and technical cooperation. We have a special group working on this particular subject,” Lavrov told reporters through an interpreter.

Western countries, which had traditionally supplied military equipment to Zimbabwe, including fighter jets and vehicles, stopped in 2000 after imposing sanctions on ex-president Robert Mugabe’s government over accusations of human rights abuses.

Chris Mutsvangwa, Mnangagwa’s special advisor, later told reporters that Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence was in talks with Russia over the procurement of military hardware. He did not provide details.

A Russian consortium including arms conglomerate Rostec in 2014 partnered a Zimbabwean group to develop a $3 billion platinum operation near the capital but the project had stalled.

Lavrov’s visit is expected to revive the mining venture, which is one of the single biggest investments the southern African nation has seen since independence in 1980.

“We have laid particular emphasis on implementation of the joint project of exploring the Darwendale platinum deposit, the largest in the world and which is currently operated by a joint venture between Zimbabwe and Russia,” Lavrov said.

Zimbabwe has the second largest known deposits of platinum after South Africa and the Darwendale project is considered to be the largest single deposit.

Mnangagwa is desperate to attract foreign investors to kickstart the economy and has promised reforms to safeguard investments.