‘I will play Kissinger’: The man behind Africa’s mission to end Ukraine war

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The French dealmaker who is brokering an improbable African diplomatic ngo to assistance extremity the warfare successful Ukraine is simply a seasoned commodities trader with homes successful respective continents and adjacent friends successful arsenic galore statesmanlike palaces.

Jean-Yves Ollivier, a cigar-chomping middleman who has been striking deals connected the continent for six decades, has antecedently taken recognition for parlaying his concern and governmental connections into captive swaps, unit withdrawals and ceasefires successful immoderate of Africa’s thorniest conflicts.

His grounds arsenic a broker successful the oil-rich Republic of Congo, and links to its long-time president stretching backmost astir fractional a century, person made him a arguable figure. Other hats helium has worn during his agelong vocation see advising Russia’s atomic powerfulness radical Rosatom.

Now, astatine 78, Ollivier has acceptable his sights connected what would beryllium his astir striking woody yet: getting Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commencement talking.

Speaking to the Financial Times this week from the Poland-Ukraine border, earlier helium was owed to committee a nighttime bid to Kyiv, Ollivier said each negotiations started somewhere, and helium had chosen grain, fertiliser and captive exchanges arsenic the ground to unfastened discussions betwixt Moscow and Kyiv.

“I volition play [Henry] Kissinger,” helium said of his role, referring to the erstwhile US caput of authorities famed for his diplomatic manoeuvrings.

“The astir important happening successful immoderate dialog is to enactment radical unneurotic and speech astir something,” said Ollivier, who has homes successful respective countries successful Europe and Africa. Putin and Zelenskiy person agreed to conscionable the delegation of leaders from Egypt, Senegal, the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia and Uganda, who mean to question to Moscow and Kyiv adjacent month. They person each close to mediate successful the struggle fixed the tremendous consequences for their region, Ollivier said.

“The lone continent that’s truly suffering is Africa. I don’t deliberation the US is suffering, I don’t deliberation Europe is suffering, expect for a small spot of inflation,” said Ollivier, a French national calved successful Algeria. “But successful Africa, if there’s nary harvest adjacent twelvemonth due to the fact that there’s nary fertiliser, millions of radical are going to die.”

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has expressed scepticism astir the initiative/AFP via Getty Images.

The African contingent volition question nether the auspices of the Brazzaville Foundation that was founded by Ollivier. Yet Olusegun Obasanjo, a erstwhile Nigerian president who is connected the foundation’s advisory board, expressed scepticism astir the initiative, peculiarly due to the fact that it has nary backing from the African Union.

Obasanjo, himself a seasoned negotiator, besides disquieted that the ngo was premature, based connected conversations with the US authorities section and UK overseas office. “They made it wide this is not the close time,” helium said.

Ollivier, whose vocation began successful the 1960s arsenic a atom trader, is known arsenic a fixer adjacent to Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the Republic of Congo’s president and 1 of those progressive successful the initiative. Ollivier has brokered respective deals connected behalf of Congo’s authorities lipid institution and helped a task backed by Och-Ziff, the US hedge money present rebranded Sculptor Capital Management, to get a involvement successful an Eni-operated offshore gasfield successful the state successful 2010.

The task sold its 25 per cent involvement successful 2019 to Russia’s Lukoil. Och-Ziff paid much than $400 cardinal successful 2016 to settee US allegations of bribery successful respective African nations, including an SEC assertion that the steadfast had “failed to disclose worldly facts” regarding the Congo deal.

Ollivier said helium had “never backed oregon been successful interaction straight oregon indirectly with Och-Ziff”, and had “never been interrogated oregon questioned by the US, SEC oregon immoderate different authoritative body”.

His connections to Putin stem from his enactment for Rosatom, the Russian institution which specialises successful atomic energy. “I was trying to beforehand the thought that China and Russia could enactment unneurotic to export civilian atomic works and some Russia and China chose maine arsenic a go-between,” Ollivier said. He denied immoderate engagement successful the contentious Rosatom woody with South Africa, agreed by past president Jacob Zuma, which was aboriginal struck down by the country’s law court.

Ollivier said his foundation’s bid inaugural came astir aft “conversations I had with immoderate of my African person friends”, adding that helium had received nary objections from occidental capitals.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa called Putin and Zelenskiy this period erstwhile helium was battling the fallout from a US accusation that his state covertly supplied arms to Russia. Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, different of the sextet, was ideally placed to transportation to Putin and Zelenskiy, Ollivier said. Ramaphosa called some leaders this period arsenic helium was battling the fallout from a US accusation that his state covertly supplied arms to Russia.

Alex Vines, Africa programme manager astatine the Chatham House think-tank, said “each African person has an agenda” to instrumentality part. Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema was keen to antagonistic perceptions that helium was excessively pro-western, Ramaphosa was seeking to rebuild his credibility aft the US arms accusation, portion Sassou-Nguesso wanted to shed the pariah presumption built up implicit his lengthy rule.

All were hopeless to stem nutrient terms ostentation and forestall shortages connected their continent. Ollivier said the Turkey-brokered woody that allowed Ukraine to vessel its atom via the Black Sea was “very fragile”, contempt it receiving a two-month hold past week.

Any propulsion to merchandise the Russian fertiliser exports that Africa needs successful instrumentality for a amended woody to export Ukrainian atom would request to beryllium squared with Russia’s severed entree to the planetary Swift strategy for banking payments. While nary occidental sanctions people Russian nutrient oregon fertiliser exports directly, Moscow has blamed restrictions connected financing and shipping for stranding its products.

“Swift’s not going to beryllium established for each Russia – we’re not asking for that,” Ollivier said, but entree “should beryllium established with circumstantial banking channels, specifically for fertiliser”.

Asked if his inaugural was astatine hazard of being utilized by either broadside for their ain ends, Ollivier said it was mean successful immoderate negotiations that parties would spot opportunities to propulsion their ain interests. The African leaders were “highly experienced and I don’t deliberation anybody wants to favour 1 oregon the other”.

As to however superior immoderate bid effort could beryllium fixed developments connected the battlefield, with Ukraine preparing a counteroffensive and Russia fortifying its beforehand lines, Ollivier was cautiously optimistic.

“The information they already accepted to speech is advancement successful itself,” helium said.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023

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