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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006, 00:46 GMT 01:46 UK
Russia rebuilds South Africa links
By Peter Biles
BBC News, Johannesburg

Russian president, Vladimir Putin
President Putin's state visit is being hailed as historic

It is perhaps surprising that a Russian president has not been to South Africa in the 12 years since the death of apartheid.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) had extraordinarily close ties with Moscow during the years of the liberation struggle.

Many former ANC activists, including President Thabo Mbeki, underwent military training in the Soviet Union.

In an interview with Reuters news agency this week, the current South African Intelligence Minister, Ronnie Kasrils, described the Kremlin as "the main staple support for the ANC and South African liberation".

For decades, as Moscow provided backing for the ANC, white South Africa was fed a diet of propaganda by the masters of apartheid, and lived in perpetual fear of a Communist onslaught.

That anxiety lasted until 1989 when the fall of the Berlin Wall played no small part in the South African government's decision to unban the ANC, the SA Communist Party and release all political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela.

So Vladimir Putin's two-day state visit which begins on Tuesday, is being hailed as historic.

In fact, it is Mr Putin's first time in sub-Saharan Africa, and the main focus will be on strengthening economic relations with the government in Pretoria.

Bilateral trade

The Russian leader is being accompanied by a large business delegation. South Africa and Russia are eyeing a vast range of business opportunities, that could lead to an expansion of bilateral trade.

There is currently a large trade imbalance between the two countries. South African exports to Russia amounted to $106m last year, but imports from Russia only totalled $18m.

South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, points out that both nations began their democratisation processes at roughly the same time, and the trade figures reflect the potential that exists between them.

South African president, Thabo Mbeki
President Mbeki may be hoping to discuss UN reform

The South African fruit exporting company, Capespan, is now exporting more fruit to Russia than it does to the UK, one of its traditional markets.

According to South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs, there has been an increase in apple and pear exports and the demand for grapes has been booming in Russia.

South African multinationals are said to be making their presence felt in Russia. Anglo American, De Beers and Standard Bank are among those with substantial interests, and the brewers, SAB/Miller, have established a brewery in the Kaluga Region, representing a $100m investment.

Emerging economies

In the meantime, Russian companies are looking to South Africa, no doubt conscious of China's move into many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, and the subsequent scramble for raw materials.

Russia's largest steel-maker, Evraz, is bidding for a bigger stake in one of South Africa's leading firms, Highveld Steel & Vanadium. Two years ago, the Russian company, Norilsk Nickel, bought a 20% share in the South African gold producer, Gold Fields.

South Africa and Russia have a lot in common as two of the world's largest emerging economies. Thabo Mbeki and Vladimir Putin have encountered one another at G8 summits, and Russia - the current chair of the G8 - has been forced to pay particular attention to Africa's development agenda.

In their discussions in Cape Town this week, the South African and Russian leaders may also be discussing the issue of United Nations reform. President Mbeki may be hoping that President Putin will support South Africa's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Timeline: Russia
23 Aug 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
03 Jul 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
10 Aug 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: South Africa
04 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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