Putin courts Africa and offers to mediate dam dispute

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) attend the first plenary session as part of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, on October 24, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2019

Putin courts Africa and offers to mediate dam dispute

  • El-Sisi and Abiy met Thursday, and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks “immediately” to reach a “final proposal” on the filling and operating of the dam
  • The summit in Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday sought to expand Moscow’s clout in Africa by touting military aid and economic projects at the first-ever Russia-Africa summit and even offered to help mediate a growing dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin addressed the issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in separate meetings on the sidelines of the two-day summit attended by leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries.
Peskov didn’t say whether Egypt and Ethiopia accepted the mediation offer, which the United States also extended in recent days after talks on the dam collapsed this month.
Some pro-government media in Egypt have cast the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and how it will affect Egypt’s share of Nile river water as a national security threat that could warrant military action. Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader this week declared that “no force” could stop the dam’s construction.
El-Sisi and Abiy met Thursday, and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks “immediately” to reach a “final proposal” on the filling and operating of the dam. Bassam Radi’s statement had no mention of mediation.
Ethiopia said Abiy and El-Sisi met about “issues of common concern” but gave no details.
The summit in Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa, while heads of state roamed through an expo center displaying military hardware.
Putin emphasized that developing stronger ties with the continent ranks among Russia’s top foreign policy priorities, noting that African nations have emerged as “one of important pillars of the multi-polar world.”
Russia’s annual trade with African nations doubled in the last five years to exceed $20 billion and Putin voiced confidence that it could double again “as a minimum” in the next four or five years.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided generous economic and military aid to many African countries amid global rivalry with the United States. Moscow’s influence withered after the 1991 Soviet collapse and Russia is still far behind the West and China in trade and investment in Africa, but it has capitalized on Soviet-era ties to widen its role in the continent’s affairs.
The Russian president emphasized Thursday that Russia and African nations should expand their cooperation in combating extremism, including exchange of information between security agencies.
Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier, and Putin noted that Russia now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations. He added that Moscow could expand training of military and security personnel from African nations.
“We hope that ... you will help us, in particular, to build up our armed forces,” said Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, according to a Kremlin account of his meeting with Putin. He spoke in the wake of an August power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, agreed to renew a lapsed military cooperation agreement with Russia which is expected to lead to more direct procurement of military equipment, President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said.
Nigeria also said it and Russia would work to improve the efficiency of Abuja’s all-important oil sector by establishing a framework for a joint venture between Nigeria’s state-owned oil company and Russia’s Lukoil that will include prospecting for oil “deep offshore.” The countries also agreed to solidify the venture between the NNPC and Russian gas giant Gazprom.
Other African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent.
“What stands Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, according to his spokeswoman. He spoke shortly after a pair of Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in his country on an unprecedented visit to the continent, reflecting Moscow’s new push for clout.


Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

Updated 06 April 2020

Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

  • The two countries, Italy and Spain, that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease
  • Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday

MADRID: A week ago, emergency rooms and intensive care wards in Spain and Italy were overflowing with woozy, coughing coronavirus patients and literally buzzing with breathing machines.
So many died that Barcelona crematories have a waiting list of up to two years, forcing some people to bury loved ones temporarily in cemeteries with the expectation of exhuming them for cremation later on.
But now the two countries that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease, while Britain, where the prime minister has been hospitalized, seems headed in the opposite direction.
Between them, Italy and Spain saw nearly 30,000 deaths and 265,000 confirmed infections in the pandemic. They, and other European countries that locked down weeks ago and ramped up testing, are now seeing the benefits.
Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy’s daily increase for the second day in a row.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,” the deputy chief executive of Britain’s NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, told Sky News.
In Spain, deaths and new infections dropped again on Monday. The health ministry reported 637 new fatalities, the lowest toll in 13 days, for a total of over 13,000 dead. New recorded infections were the lowest in two weeks.
Emergency rooms in the hard-hit Madrid region of 6.6 million were returning almost to normal a week after scenes of patients sleeping on floors and in chairs.
Patients awaiting treatment in Madrid-area ERs went down Monday to 390 cases, one-tenth of the arrivals last week, the regional government said. The number of people being treated for coronavirus in intensive care stabilized at about 1,500 for five straight days.
Transport, Mobility and Urban Affairs Minister José Luis Ábalos said the figures show Spain is entering “a new phase of the battle.”
“This new phase does not mean we can let down our guard. We are assessing the measures that we will need to adopt,” Ábalos said.
At the San Carlos Clinic Hospital in Madrid, nearly 15% of the hospital’s 1,400-strong staff contracted the coronavirus, in line with the national average,
“Our priority at the moment is to bring health workers back to work,” said Dr. Julio Mayol, the facility’s medical director.
Still, there are fears for a new outbreak as Spanish authorities begin talking about loosening the grip on mandatory confinement, and the strain on hospitalizations will still be seen for another week while that in intensive care units for another two weeks, Mayol said.
Italy still has, by far, the world’s highest coronavirus death toll — almost 16,000 — but the pressure on northern Italy’s ICUs has eased so much that Lombardy is no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
In the northern city of Bergamo, one of Europe’s virus epicenters, hospital staff were still pulling long, difficult shifts even if the numbers of new patients had eased a bit.
“There has been no reduction in the work,” said Maria Berardelli, a nursing coordinator at Pope John XXIII hospital. “There have been fewer admissions to the emergency room, but our intensive care units are still full, so the activity hasn’t been reduced.”
In a public housing project in the city of Seville, 90-year-old Manuela Jiménez has been confined to her home for more than 20 days. She speaks to neighbors from her window as they deliver food and says she has never seen anything like it, despite having lived through the Spanish Civil War and Second World War.
“Back then my mother would lock me up and I would stay calm but now, look, there is my neighbor and I can’t see her”, says Jiménez.
Illness has been compounded by shocking economic pain as all the world’s largest economies have ground to a halt, including in Italy and Spain. In France, which slightly trails its two neighbors to the south in deaths and infections, the government shut the country down two days after Italy — and has also seen a slight easing.
The UK initially resisted taking some of the tough measures seen in other European countries, which banned large events, shut schools and closed their borders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
The government’s first advice was that people should wash their hands frequently. As the number of cases soared, the response escalated to include the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and a nationwide order for everyone but key workers to stay home.
Now, Austria and the Czech Republic are openly discussing how to ease some of the crippling restrictions. Austria’s chancellor said the plan is to let small shops and garden centers reopen next week, with limits on the number of customers inside, and the rest on May 1. The Czech government is proposing an end to the ban on travel abroad as of April 14 and the reopening of small stores.