H.E. Prof. Beyene Petros Participates in an Online Discussion on Russian-African Relations

In a bid to further deepen the diplomatic ties between Russia and Africa, H.E. Prof. Beyene Petros, Director General of the Policy Studies Institute delivered a speech in an enlightening online round table discussion on April 12,2024. The Sputnik Agency of Russia prepared the roundtable discussion.

                                       H.E. Prof. Beyene Petros, Director General of Policy Studies Institute 

With a key focus on Russian African relations, this high-profile event brought together esteemed experts, policymakers, and influential figures from various African countries including Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and so on.

Prof. Beyene highlighted that Ethiopia and Russia have a long-standing friendship with historical significance and potential for future cooperation. He mentions that the roots of this friendship can be traced back to the Middle Ages when ancient Ethiopia established relations with Armenia and Georgia. The religious communities in Jerusalem also played a role in fostering ties between Ethiopia and Russia, as they shared the Orthodox Tewahido Christian Religion.

Prof. Beyene further states that formal diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Russia were established at the end of the 19th century. However, these relations were interrupted in 1917 and later resumed in 1943. It is noted that after the remarkable victory of Adwa in 1896, Ethiopia took the initiative to officially establish diplomatic relations with Moscow on April 21, 1943. Throughout history, both nations have shown solidarity in supporting the struggle for independence and decolonization across Africa, and they have gained extensive experience in establishing mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields.

Prof. Beyene also highlights the significant role played by the Russian government in supporting Ethiopian emperors during the second half of the 19th century. The assistance provided by Russia, including military aid, humanitarian aid, education, and medical care, helped Ethiopia defend itself against potential threats from the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, and Italy. Notably, Tsar Nicholas II supplied Emperor Menelik II's army with 10,000 firearms and military advisors in 1891. Additionally, Russia contributed to gold mining, conducted geological surveys, and provided support in the fields of education and health.

Prof. Beyene mentioned that following the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia played a significant role in Ethiopia's development by sharing their technical and commercial knowledge. The new Russian government focused on commerce when they resumed relations with Ethiopia, and they provided military and financial support until the 1960s. The USSR offered substantial aid to Ethiopia, contributing to industrial and infrastructure projects and enabling numerous Ethiopians to study at Soviet universities and vocational training programs.

The impact of the Cold War, characterized by superpower rivalry, had a profound effect on the relationship between Ethiopia and Russia. Despite the historical ties in religious and economic terms, the United States successfully exerted its influence on Ethiopia during the early stages of the Cold War until the Ethiopian revolution in 1974.

The revolution in Ethiopia in 1974, which ended the country's military alliance with the US, marked a significant shift in Russia's involvement in the Horn of Africa. Russia adjusted its foreign policy and embraced the Ethiopian revolution.

From an economic perspective, Prof. Beyene explained that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed between the USSR and Ethiopia in 1959 laid the groundwork for substantial economic relations that reached their peak in the 1970s. The USSR supported Ethiopia in various large-scale projects, including industrial plants, power stations, and geological exploration. In the 1980s, aid was provided during times of famine and drought.

Prof. Beyene added that the collaboration between the two countries in the fields of science, technology, and education gained momentum. Over a span of 40 years, they worked together on a biological expedition to document Ethiopia's natural resources, guided by a clear strategy since 1987. Prof. Beyene mentioned that he was one of the representatives from Ethiopian side participated in this expedition, and traveling to Moscow, Russia in the early 1991. He added that scientists from both countries operated within a supportive framework during this period, leading to notable achievements in fundamental science.

The Russian Center for Science and Culture, also known as the Pushkin Center in Ethiopia, holds the distinction of being the oldest institution of its kind on the African continent. Established in 1945 as the Soviet Permanent Exhibition, the center has had a positive influence on various aspects of Ethiopian endeavors. Its primary focus is to promote Russian literature through book clubs and writing activities. The center actively promotes the Russian language and culture in Ethiopia, fosters bilateral relations, and facilitates connections between people from both countries.

Prof. Beyene stated that the Melka Wakena Hydroelectric Power plant and Asab Oil Refinery were constructed by the Russians, serving as evidence of their active involvement in trade and infrastructure development in agriculture and other sectors within Ethiopia. The establishment of the Bahir Dar Technical School, later known as the Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute and currently part of Bahir Dar University as the Bahir Dar Institute of Technology, can be attributed to a bilateral agreement between Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

Prof. Beyene mentioned that Russia's engagement in Ethiopia extends beyond politics and economics. The Russian Red Cross hospital, named after Dejazmach Balcha, provides crucial medical care to over 70,000 Ethiopians annually and employs numerous Russian specialists. Ethiopian students receive free education from Russian universities, including specialized training for the development of railway transport in the country.

While the Soviet Union initially made progress, its influence eventually collapsed more dramatically than anticipated following the regime change in Ethiopia in 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Consequently, bilateral cooperation between the two countries was scaled back. However, political dialogue between Russia and Ethiopia gradually resumed in the mid-1990s, and official visits and meetings occurred between high-ranking officials, including prime ministers, foreign ministers, and deputy prime ministers.

In recent years, there have been more high-level visits and the establishment of an intergovernmental commission for cooperation in the fields of business, trade, and science. Russia is actively involved in major projects related to energy, agriculture, and transport infrastructure, and Russian companies are making investments in various sectors in Ethiopia.

Noteworthy events include the visit of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to Russia for the G20 Summit in 2013, a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa in 2014, and the Russia-Africa Summit in 2019, where Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed held talks with President Vladimir Putin.

At present, several universities in Ethiopia, such as Bahir Dar, Jimma, Addis Ababa Science and Technology, Bonga, and Ethiopian Defense Universities have established Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Russian universities and organizations to facilitate cooperation in training and research activities.Prof. Beyene also said the Policy Studies Institute(PSI) has alredy initiated to do some collaborative research with the Russian research University.

Prof. Beyene mentioned that Russia continues to express support for Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The two countries engage in cooperation across various areas, including the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which was formalized through a bilateral agreement at the Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019. Both Russia and Ethiopia advocate for Africa to be granted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and seek reforms within the Council. It is currently understood that Ethiopia has faced significant economic consequences as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

On a political level, the diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Russia are influenced by their historical ties. The two countries frequently exchange high-level visits and hold discussions on regional and global issues of mutual interest. They share common positions on important international matters, such as promoting peace, stability, and conflict resolution in Africa and beyond. In recent years, Ethiopia has acknowledged Russia's support in addressing regional challenges, including the situation in the Horn of Africa and the fight against terrorism.

Prof. Beyene emphasized that the relationship between Ethiopia and Russia has evolved over time, encompassing medieval ties rooted in religious communities to present-day cooperation in various fields. Despite shifts in global politics and changing dynamics, both countries have maintained diplomatic relations and continue to seek opportunities for collaboration. The historical significance of their friendship and the potential for future cooperation highlight the enduring and important nature of their relationship.

Overall, Prof. Beyene in the round table speech said that Ethiopia holds great significance for the future as it is home to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Its historical role as a symbol of African independence solidifies its position as a crucial partner for Russia in its efforts to regain its great power status. Through strategic investments in key sectors such as energy and minerals, Russia can strengthen its economic ties with Ethiopia and establish a presence in the region. Besides, Russia can expand its influence across the continent by promoting science, technology, and soft power initiatives.

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