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    Russia says Zimbabwe talks show sanctions are not needed

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    Russia, which blocked UN sanctions against Zimbabwe's regime, believes the start of talks between the government and the opposition justify Moscow's veto, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, July 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia, which blocked UN sanctions against Zimbabwe's regime, believes the start of talks between the government and the opposition justify Moscow's veto, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.

    Russia's veto at the UN Security Council earlier this month drew harsh criticism from Western powers calling for pressure on Zimbabwe over election-related violence. On Monday, hardline President Robert Mugabe signed a deal with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, agreeing to start talks on a future government.

    "Our position on this issue has been consistent from the outset, and these consultations prove that this position is justified," Medvedev told reporters after a meeting in Moscow with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

    "I hope that during these consultations, all basic agreements will be reached to calm the situation," he said.

    The European Union has also welcomed the start of talks, but EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday said it was only a small first step toward resolving the crisis, and that international pressure on Mugabe must be maintained.

    The European diplomats agreed on broader sanctions against the regime, extending visa bans for regime officials as well as asset seizures.

    The EU has refused to recognize the re-election of Mugabe through a June run-off in which he was the sole candidate. Tsvangirai, who won the first voting round, pulled out of the re-run citing death threats and mass intimidation of opposition supporters.

    Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement welcoming the start of talks in Zimbabwe.

    "Russia welcomes this decision, which opens up the route to overcoming the internal political crisis in the country. We call on leading political forces in the country to continue to show a constructive approach in the name of national unity and accord," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

    Among the many problems currently plaguing Zimbabwe are its inflation rate of 2 million percent, with a loaf of bread now costing 100 billion Zimbabwe dollars, and a collapsed agricultural system that can barely feed the population. National life expectancy is now the lowest in the world, at 37 for men, down from 60 in 1990, according to the World Health Organization.

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