n Journal of African Foreign Affairs - Russian roulette : rethinking Zimbabwe-Russian relations

Volume 3, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN : 2056-564X
  • E-ISSN: 2056-5658


This paper analyses the relations between Zimbabwe and Russia against the backdrop of the Zimbabwean war of liberation, the collapse of USSR and Russia's support of Zimbabwe in the 21st century. The paper argues that contrary to Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF)'s narrative of relations having been cordial, this was not always the case. Zimbabwe's war of liberation took place against the backdrop of the Cold War in which there was ideological competition between the West and the East. Crucially, the war of liberation occurred during the period of China-Russia tensions and in this period, ZANU threw its lot with the Chinese. Furthermore, during the Cold War, Zimbabwe had good relations with capitalist Britain and United States of America (USA) two of Russia's rivals. However, popular Zimbabwean history and the official narrative tend to ignore the tensions which bubbled under the surface. Instead, they peddle an uncritical accounts laced with historical amnesia. Russia has been viewed as having been a long-standing ally of Zimbabwe and praised for its role in the war of liberation. Little mention is made of the fact that Russia was distrusted by ZANU and was not even allowed to have an embassy in the country for about three years. Zimbabwe's attitude towards Russia was influenced by ZANU's relations with China which was Russia's rival. Harare was suspicious of Moscow's intentions and believed that its close ties to ZAPU would tempt her to overthrow her government. Relations between the two have been characterised by tension, suspicion and co-operation.

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