Diplomatic relations between Russia and Zambia were established through notes exchange on the 30th of October, 1964, shortly in the aftermath of Zambia's Independence Day, whereas the Soviet Union was amongst the first nations to recognize the young republic and to commence on a half-century-old history of beneficial ties based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
As early as March the following year Mr. Sergey Slipchenko assumed office of the first Soviet Ambassador in Lusaka, whilst his peer, a very young and promising diplomat and future renowned veteran politician Dr. Vernon Mwaanga was sworn in as the Zambian Ambassador to produce his credentials at the Grand Kremlin Palace in September.
The establishment of diplomatic relations has given rise to intensive official contacts through high ranking missions, e.g. a working visit to the USSR of Mr. Arthur Wina, the first Zambian Minister of Finance, in December 1965; or the Goodwill Mission to Moscow helmed by (late) Mr. Reuben Chitandika Kamanga, the first Vice President of Zambia in August 1966, when, inter alia, a bilateral agreement on cultural cooperation was signed.
The intergovernmental Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation signed in May 1967 gave considerable boost to the development of bilateral activities in trade and economic sector. Particularly, yet in early 1968 our governments have embarked (through respective agreement) on implementation of a number of power construction projects in the North-Western Province.
The Trade Agreement signed in Lusaka in December 1971 set forth the mutual provision of the most favored nation treatment in bilateral trade and facilitated gradual buildup of shipments.
First Zambian President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda travelled to Moscow twice, first time with the official visit in November 1974 followed by a friendly working visit in November 1987. In turn, Mr. Nikolai Podgorny, USSR Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet undertook a trip to Lusaka in March 1977 responding to the formal invitation conveyed by Dr. Kaunda. In their joint communiqué on the outcome of the Soviet leader's visit, the Sides have acknowledged the development of mutual relationships and beneficial cooperation in the air of friendship and based on the principles of equality, mutual respect of sovereign rights, territorial integrity and non-involvement in internal affairs.
It's no longer a secret that during the late 70's – early 80's the significant amounts of bilateral economic cooperation have been mostly attributed to the Soviet massive technical and military aid, aircraft, arms and heavy equipment supplies totaling hundreds of millions dollars. But what is the most essential in that regard is the vast contribution of the Soviet Union to shaping, development and strengthening of Zambian Defense Forces through the meticulous professional training of the country's military personnel.
In December 31, 1991, following the dissolution of Soviet Union, the Zambian Government led by the next (late) President Mr. Frederic Chiluba officially recognized sovereignty of the Russian Federation as its legal successor. Afterwards, the subsequent official contacts went on through the exchange of parliamentary delegations, on ministerial and senior officials' levels.
Notably, the delegates from both houses of the Russian Federal Assembly (i.e. State Duma and Federation Council) have paid a number of visits to Zambia in 2007-2008, in anticipation of the October 2008 meeting in Moscow of Mr. Mutale Nalumango (during his tenure as the Deputy Speaker) with Mr. Alexander Saltanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, where the parties praised coordination of efforts on the international scene and acknowledged the importance of Russian involvement in ongoing international activities aimed at settlement of social and economic issues and resolution of conflicts in the sub-Saharan region.
Later, in December 2010 the delegates of the Zambian Parliament attending the Moscow International Public Forum headlined as "the Role of People's Diplomacy in Development of Humanitarian Cooperation" have held a meeting with their colleagues from the Federation Council.
Following the September 2011 Zambian parliamentary and presidential elections Mr. Dmitry Medvedev in his capacity of the Russian President sent a cable of greetings to the Patriotic Front leader Mr. Michael Chilufya Sata on the occasion of his election as the new Head of State. In his address Mr. Medvedev indicated impetuous development of friendly Russian-Zambian relations seen as a strong foundation for further promotion of multifaceted cooperation, comprising political dialog, reciprocity in trade and economic as well as cultural and humanitarian areas for the benefit of strengthening stability and security on the African continent.
In April 2015 and May 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov received Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Zambia G. Kalaba in Moscow. In February 2017, in Moscow, Aide to the President of the Russian Federation Yury Ushakov met with former Head of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Zambia R. Msiska.
In October 2017, the Zambian delegation headed by P. Matibini took part in the 137th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in St. Petersburg. In April 2018 P. Matibini visited Russia at the invitation of V. I. Matvienko.
In February 2019, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Zambia, J. Malanji, paid a working visit to Moscow. In October 2019, J. Malanji, as the head of the Zambian delegation, took part in the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.
In 2019 and 2020, Zambia received humanitarian assistance in the form of supplies of essential medicines through the EMERCOM.
The positions of Moscow and Lusaka on key issues of the international and regional agenda are close or coincide. Zambians support the main Russian initiatives and candidates for the UN and other multilateral platforms.
In the sphere of economy the situation is a bit more complicated. It is worthwhile to admit that the volume of economical and technical cooperation that grew rapidly in the heydays of the late 60's through the early to mid 80's, later, due to known social-economic and political turmoil at different times and with different intensity experienced by both Zambia and USSR (which ultimately led to the latter's dismissal), began to fade and gradually reduced to irregular, random and poorly diversified shipments, the situation, which doesn't do justice to the abundant resources and rich economic potentials of both countries, obviously cannot serve to the their respective interests and definitely awaits close scrutiny.
Yet in August of 2001 the Russian Federation undertook (through the respective G2G agreement) to write off as much as 80% of the Zambian debt obligations under the credits earlier granted by the former USSR consolidated as of March 31,1999 in the amount of some $700mn. The outstanding balance in the excess of $138mn was supposed to be reimbursed in deferred installments within the further 33 years.
However five years later, in 2006 Russia has indicated intention to entirely cancel the debt of Zambia (among other 15 countries eligible for the debt relief program under the HIPC Initiative).
To these ends under the respective G2G agreement (on utilization of debt obligations towards the Russian Federation for funding of development projects in Zambia) signed in February 2011, all further payments effected in reimbursement of the outstanding balance to the amount of $99.2 mn (with the interest no longer accrued to the principal debt) consolidated as of late 2006, arrive to a special account exclusively used to finance a variety of development projects in Zambia aimed at curbing energy poverty, development of healthcare and social security, increasing accessibility and quality of education, etc. The specific projects coordinated between the Russian and Zambian relevant authorities correspond to the projections of the Zambia's Sixth National Development Plan (2011-2015).
Considering obvious mutual interest more and more often expressed by the local and Russian entrepreneurs in identification and development of both countries potentials for bilateral economic cooperation, in the next several years we expect a progressive Russian "come back" to the Zambian market, starting from small niches that may be immediately laying on the surface, and stepping up further to more serious undertakings.
The current level of trade and economic relations between Russia and Zambia cannot be described as corresponding to the existing potential, although it has significantly increased over the past year. Zambia occupies the 115th line among all Russia's foreign economic partners with the volume of foreign trade in 2019 98.2 million US dollars (about 10 million dollars and the 165th line a year earlier), while the latter appears on the 46th place among importing countries of the Republic.
Dynamics of Russian-Zambian trade (thousand US dollars)
In April 2019, with the support of the Embassy, a delegation of the Moscow chamber of Commerce and industry visited Lusaka. The main result of the visit was the signing of a Memorandum of understanding and cooperation with the Zambian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In this regard, large Russian companies began to show more interest to the Zambian market:
- In June-July 2019, the regional Director of PJSC “LUKOIL” for Africa and the Middle East, V. Amer, discussed with the authorities of the Copperbelt province the possibility of building an oil refinery in the region and supplying oil products for the needs of the government of Zambia.
- “Bisolbi-inter” LLC, a Saint Petersburg-based company that develops new forms of microbiological preparations for crop and feed production and supplies fertilizers to Zambia, has been making serious plans for several years to open an “Extrasol” plant for the production of a microbiological fertilizer and 5 demonstration farms.
- At the end of May 2019, a delegation of the Ministry of Finance of Zambia paid a business visit to Russia, where it held talks with the management of Gazprombank JSC.
- In early November 2019, a special message from the President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, was sent to Vladimir Putin with a request to review the format of cooperation on the nuclear project and work out the issue of co-financing.
- On January 18-25, 2020, Zambian delegation headed by Minister of Finance B. N'gandu visited Moscow, where it held negotiations on the supply of mineral fertilizers with “Uralkali” PJSC. The Russian company made a one-time delivery of 700 tons of fertilizers last year.
- In February 2020, the Chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation V. I. Matvienko, who confirmed Russia's focus on building up the entire range of ties, paid a visit to Zambia. Great importance was attached to the fields of agriculture, mechanical engineering, geological exploration, medicine, and nuclear energy.
Thus, Zambia, has traditionally demonstrated a trusting attitude towards Russia as a reliable business partner and ally. Both countries are interested in developing mutually beneficial trade and investment cooperation in both traditional and innovative areas of the local economy.
But the longest lasting and perhaps the most significant and socially important area, a "center stage" of the Russian-Zambian cooperation, cementing the bonds of friendship for all these years, is undeniably the sector of education, where Russia is unrivalled to any other Zambian overseas partners.
Yet back in 1973 our governments signed the Protocol on Recognition of Qualifications and Academic Degrees that opened opportunities for Zambian students to be enrolled on the Russian educational system. Each year several hundreds of Zambian students attend undergraduate and postgraduate programs in different Russian universities and colleges.
Russia is immensely proud of the fact that among the alumni of Soviet and Russian educational institutions are many renowned figures of Zambian political elite, top officials, senior executives and highly skilled specialists providing their talents and endeavors for the benefit of the country.
Zambia is the largest recipient of Russian government-sponsored scholarships among the countries of Sub-Saharan region. The quota awarded by the Russian government to the eligible Zambian high-school graduates has been growing over the years and it has eventually increased to 141 full scholarships in the current 2019/2020 academic year (from 90 in 2003).
Incepted in 1989 in Lusaka, Russian Center of Science and Culture, apart from numerous cultural, social and political activities carried out in conjunction with the Russian Embassy, on a regular basis provides for the Russian language training courses, which may be extremely helpful to the Zambian nationals to acquire better knowledge of our country, especially to those willing to study in Russia.
After the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation in the creation of an educational cluster between the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) and the Ministry of Higher Education of Zambia in the fall of 2017 in Moscow, activity in this direction has acquired new impetus and dynamics. The exchange of delegations, the number of events held and the directions of development of various projects show the seriousness of the parties in its implementation.
In 2018, three delegations of RUDN University were sent to Zambia, the Center for the Russian Language was opened at Copperbelt University. Before that, at the end of April, a delegation of RUDN University teachers held an academic Olympiad in mathematics and chemistry for graduates of Zambian schools wishing to study in Russia.
A number of important events were held in 2019/2020, most of them were covered by the Zambian media. For instance, days of Russia in Zambia; "Immortal regiment", held on the territory the RCSC with the participation of diplomats, compatriots, schoolchildren, students of the RCSC and graduates of Russian universities; days of Slavic writing and Russian language; traditional receptions in honor of Russia Day, organized jointly by the Embassy of the Russian Federation and the representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo; a comprehensive event dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World war (was included in the General cultural program of the Zambian government); organization and financing of the photo exhibition "Unknown war in Africa".
In addition to major events, the RCSC regularly hosts literary and musical evenings dedicated to Russian composers and artists, as well as weekly screenings of films and documentaries.
Obviously, Russia and Zambia speak different official languages, but this minor inconvenience doesn't prevent our peoples from finding a common language and freely communicating on many important issues of international life.