Russian Ambassador Vladlen Semivolos during a previous interview in Kampala on March 3, 2023. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

INTERVIEW: Russian envoy speaks on ties with South Sudan

The Russian Federation’s nonresident ambassador to South Sudan, Vladlen Semivolos, said that the two countries have a convergence of their national interests and enjoy a solid bilateral political dialogue, which is the basis of strong ties between the two nations.

The Russian Federation’s nonresident ambassador to South Sudan, Vladlen Semivolos, said that the two countries have a convergence of their national interests and enjoy a solid bilateral political dialogue, which is the basis of strong ties between the two nations.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj on Tuesday, the Russian diplomat, who is also the envoy to Uganda, also said that his country is against the arms embargo imposed on South Sudan because it is being used “unfairly as a punitive tool” yet every country has the right to defend itself.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: Could you tell us about the level of your bilateral relations with South Sudan?

A: Russia and South Sudan have been enjoying cordial bilateral relations based on the bonds of friendship. The relationship between our two countries is a vivid example of fraternal intergovernmental ties based on non-interference in internal affairs, mutual respect, trust, and consideration of each other’s interests.

Our countries maintain solid bilateral political dialogue. We cooperate fruitfully in global affairs, particularly in the UN, where Russia has always been a responsible supporter of South Sudan. I am happy to note that our approaches to the most acute international and regional issues are close.

We are in favour of further expanding our cooperation with South Sudan in various spheres, including but not limited to inter-parliamentary, inter-party, trade, economic, education, and humanitarian areas. Some strides have already been achieved.

Last February I was granted an opportunity to be received by President Salva Kiir and we had a profound discussion on issues of further strengthening and expanding strong bilateral relations and extensive cooperation between our states in the international fora. I extended to President Kiir a personal invitation from the President of the Russian Federation Mr. Vladimir Putin to attend the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg in July, which he graciously accepted.

In March, a combined two-chamber delegation from South Sudan visited Moscow to take part in the International Parliamentary Conference “Russia-Africa in a Multipolar World”. There are currently arrangements underway to organize a first-ever visit of the speaker of the South Sudanese parliament to Russia.

This year we also saw a double increase in the number of scholarships being provided by the Russian government for South Sudanese students looking for studies in our country. 25 young people were selected in 2023 to pursue their educational dreams at the best Russian universities. The next call for applications for the 2024/2025 academic year will be launched around the end of this year.

Another education opportunity for South Sudanese is a project implemented by the largest and most successful special economic zone in our country called Alabuga. This year they are providing 20 fully funded vocational training scholarships. The program is a dual scheme involving professional education and work experience. The application process is ongoing and I invite all comers not to miss out on this chance, since the deadline is 1 June.

Q: What programs and investments does Russia currently have in South Sudan and in which areas?

A: At the moment, there are several Russian companies active in the South Sudanese market, particularly in the oil fields. Russia has always been a reliable partner of South Sudan in this area. Our biggest investment now is an oil refinery in Bentiu worth tens of millions of dollars being implemented by a joint venture between Russian firm Safinat and Nile Petroleum Corporation. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only company in the entire country that produces petroleum products for local consumption and export. Russian enterprises like Novomet have also been leasing and selling special equipment to oil production companies in South Sudan.

Q: You recently invited President Salva Kiir to a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg. Could you please tell us more about that summit and its purpose?

A: We welcome and highly appreciate the decision by President Salva Kiir to take part in the second Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg in late July.

2023 is considered to be the Year of Africa in my country. A lot of preparations are currently underway in Russia to host numerous events related to the summit, particularly the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum.

As I mentioned earlier, the Russia-Africa Inter-Parliamentary Conference has already taken place with the participation of the South Sudanese delegation. The International Meeting of High-Level Officials Responsible for Security Matters will also be held this year and we look forward to receiving our South Sudanese friends at this event in May.

Amidst the ongoing global shift towards the multipolar world, the Russian leadership attaches great importance to the development of cooperation with new centers of economic growth and geopolitical influence, specifically Africa. We believe the African continent is a distinctive and influential center of world development as we put it in our new concept of the foreign policy adopted this March. As President Putin said, “Our country has always and will always consider cooperation with the African States an unchanging priority.” As such, the upcoming summit is part of this vision. We anticipate a profound exchange of views during this event on issues related to the promotion and expansion of practical ties between Russia and the African States, including South Sudan.

Q: In March last year, South Sudan, as part of the Africa Union, condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine. What was Russia’s reaction to that?

A: Russia considers the position South Sudan took during the vote in the UN General Assembly in March 2022 on the so-called “aggression” against Ukraine as pragmatic and objective. I would like to underscore, that South Sudan did not vote in favor, as you noted, but abstained as it did many times after that during other votes. I would like to use this opportunity to express gratitude to the leadership of South Sudan for its responsible stance on Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.

Q: Russia recently voted against a resolution at the UN Security Council extending the UNMISS mandate for another year. What were your main concerns?

A: Russia abstained from this resolution due to the non-constructive position taken by the American penholders of the South Sudanese country file in the UN Security Council. We were trying to engage the Americans to fine-tune the language of the document, however, they refused. Russian concerns about the UNMISS mandate on the protection of civilians, climate, and hunger-conflict nexus were explicitly ignored by the US representatives. That is why Russia decided to abstain.

Q: Russia is being blamed for standing against the imposition of an arms embargo in South Sudan. Why don’t you support the continuation of the arms embargo on South Sudan?

A: Our position on the UN Security Council sanctions, including the arms embargo, against any country is that they are one of the strongest forms of response to peace threats. We are convinced that the sanctions must be used with caution, and always be perfectly justified, and well-calibrated. They must never be used as a punitive tool. The UNSC restrictions must reflect the development of the situation on the ground and serve the interests of the political process. They therefore should undergo regular review and modification until the moment they are fully lifted. In this sense, the case of South Sudan should not be an exception.

QSouth Sudan is heading towards elections in December 2024. What support is Russia providing to push for free and fair elections?

A: I do not doubt that the Government of South Sudan will provide that the elections in December 2024 would be held responsibly and democratically. We strongly believe that the elections will ensure peace, stability, security, and prosperity in your country. We are certain that they will create conducive opportunities for the further development of fruitful and mutually advantageous cooperation between Russia and South Sudan.

Q: What is your final message?

A: I would like to emphasize that Russia has always been and will remain a true friend of South Sudan. Our country is keen to develop and expand partnerships with South Sudan in various spheres. We are looking forward to hosting the delegation of South Sudan led by President Salva Kiir at the Second Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg in late July 2023 where we will be able to discuss ways and agree upon concrete steps to bring our bilateral relations to new heights.