Russia writes off Ethiopian debt

Russia has written off Ethiopia’s $1.1 billion debt, ostensibly to help Ethiopia in its fight against poverty, although I suspect arms sales may, as is so often the case, be at the root of Russia’s decision:

Russia has cancelled $1.1 billion owed to it by Ethiopia and agreed to let the Horn of Africa country repay a further $160 million over the next 30 years, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) said late on Wednesday.

Ethiopian Finance Minister Sufian Ahmed and Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin signed the agreement at a ceremony in Moscow on Monday, ENA said. […]

In October, the Paris Club of creditor nations cancelled $758 million of Ethiopia’s debt as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative launched in 1996 to ease the burden on the world’s poorest countries.

Cancelling Ethiopia’s debt not long after the Paris Club announcement provides Russia with a very good public reason for its decision.  And I’m sure that a chunk of the $1.1 billion will be redirected towards fighting poverty in Ethiopia, for which we should be thankful. 

However, after Russia recently announced that it was to write off $9.8 billion of Syria’s debt, the Syrian government promptly announced that it was to buy advanced anti-aircraft missiles from Russia.  I’d wager that altruism wasn’t the only Russian motive in Ethiopia either. 

Ethiopia and Eritrea, who have already fought a brutal war, look to be engaging in another arms race.  An arms race which according to former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, the UN’s special envoy for Ethiopia, is being fuelled by the irresponsible behaviour of a number of countries, including Russia:

"There are a lot of countries who should know better who are making good profit off the arms sales and I think some effort through the (U.N. Security) Council to put some limitations on that would be well worth looking at," he said.

(For background on the countries supplying Ethiopia and Eritrea with arms, see this BBC article).

Look out for an announcement sometime soon that the Ethiopian air force is to increase its stock of Sukhoi 27s.

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