The cigar-chomping ‘Kissinger’ behind Africa’s mission to end Ukraine war


The French dealmaker who’s brokering an unbelievable African diplomatic mission to assist finish the battle in Ukraine is a veteran commodities dealer with houses in a number of continents and shut mates in as many presidential palaces.

Jean-Yves Ollivier, a cigar-chomping intermediary who has been putting offers on the continent for six many years, has beforehand taken credit score for parlaying his enterprise and political connections into prisoner swaps, troop withdrawals and ceasefires in a few of Africa’s thorniest conflicts.

His document as a dealer within the oil-rich Republic of Congo, and hyperlinks to its longtime president stretching again nearly half a century, have made him a controversial determine. Different hats he has worn throughout his lengthy profession embody advising Russia’s nuclear energy group Rosatom.

Now, at 78, Ollivier, has set his sights on what could be his most putting deal but: getting Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to start out speaking.

Chatting with the Monetary Instances this week from the Poland-Ukraine border, earlier than he was on account of board an evening prepare to Kyiv, Ollivier stated all negotiations began someplace, and he had chosen grain, fertiliser and prisoner exchanges as the idea to open discussions between Moscow and Kyiv.

“I’ll play [Henry] Kissinger,” he stated of his function, referring to the previous US secretary of state famed for his diplomatic manoeuvrings.

A granary in Hungary filled with Ukrainian grain. Ollivier says he has chosen grain as one of many dialogue factors between Moscow and Kyiv © Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

“Crucial factor in any negotiation is to place folks collectively and speak about one thing,” stated Ollivier, who has houses in a number of nations in Europe and Africa. Putin and Zelenskyy have agreed to satisfy the delegation of leaders from Egypt, Senegal, the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia and Uganda, who intend to journey to Moscow and Kyiv subsequent month. They’ve each proper to mediate within the battle given the big penalties for his or her area, Ollivier stated.

“The one continent that’s actually struggling is Africa. I don’t assume the US is struggling, I don’t assume Europe is struggling, anticipate for a bit little bit of inflation,” stated Ollivier, a French citizen born in Algeria. “However in Africa, if there’s no crop subsequent 12 months as a result of there’s no fertiliser, tens of millions of individuals are going to die.”

The African contingent will journey below the auspices of the Brazzaville Basis that was based by Ollivier. But Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president who’s on the muse’s advisory board, expressed scepticism concerning the initiative, significantly as a result of it has no backing from the African Union.

Obasanjo, himself a veteran negotiator, additionally apprehensive that the mission was untimely, based mostly on conversations with the US state division and UK international workplace. “They made it clear this isn’t the precise time,” he stated.

Ollivier, whose profession started within the Sixties as a grain dealer, is called a fixer near Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the Republic of Congo’s president and a kind of concerned within the initiative. Ollivier has brokered a number of offers on behalf of Congo’s state oil firm and helped a enterprise backed by Och-Ziff, the US hedge fund now rebranded Sculptor Capital Administration, to amass a stake in an Eni-operated offshore gasfield within the nation in 2010.

The enterprise offered its 25 per cent stake in 2019 to Russia’s Lukoil. Och-Ziff paid greater than $400mn in 2016 to settle US allegations of bribery in a number of African nations, together with an SEC declare that the agency had “did not disclose materials details” concerning the Congo deal.

Ollivier stated he had “by no means backed or been in touch immediately or not directly with Och-Ziff”, and had “by no means been interrogated or questioned by the US, SEC or every other official physique”.

His connections to Putin stem from his work for Rosatom. “I used to be attempting to advertise the concept that China and Russia might work collectively to export civilian nuclear plant and each Russia and China selected me as a go-between,” Ollivier stated. He denied any involvement within the contentious Rosatom take care of South Africa, agreed by then president Jacob Zuma, which was later struck down by the nation’s constitutional court docket.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
Russian president Vladimir Putin greets South African president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 © Sergei Chirikov/Pool/AFP/Getty Photographs

Ollivier stated his basis’s peace initiative took place after “conversations I had with a few of my African chief mates”, including that he had obtained no objections from western capitals.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, one other of the sextet, was ideally positioned to pitch to Putin and Zelenskyy, Ollivier stated. Ramaphosa referred to as each leaders this month as he was battling the fallout from a US accusation that his nation covertly equipped arms to Russia.

Alex Vines, Africa programme director on the Chatham Home think-tank, stated “every African chief has an agenda” to participate. Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema was eager to counter perceptions that he was too pro-western, Ramaphosa was looking for to rebuild his credibility after the US arms accusation, whereas Sassou-Nguesso wished to shed the pariah standing constructed up over his prolonged rule.

All have been determined to stem meals value inflation and forestall shortages on their continent. Ollivier stated the Turkey-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain by way of the Black Sea was “very fragile”, regardless of it receiving a two-month extension final week.

Any push to launch the Russian fertiliser exports that Africa wants in return for a greater deal to export Ukrainian grain would should be squared with Russia’s severed entry to the worldwide Swift system for banking funds. Whereas no western sanctions goal Russian meals or fertiliser exports immediately, Moscow has blamed restrictions on financing and transport for stranding its merchandise.

“Swift’s not going to be established for all Russia — we’re not asking for that,” Ollivier stated, however entry “must be established with particular banking channels, particularly for fertiliser”.

Requested if his initiative was vulnerable to being utilized by both facet for their very own ends, Ollivier stated it was regular in any negotiations that events would see alternatives to push their very own pursuits. The African leaders have been “extremely skilled and I don’t assume anyone needs to favour one or the opposite.”

As to how critical any peace effort could possibly be given developments on the battlefield, with Ukraine making ready a counteroffensive and Russia fortifying its entrance strains, Ollivier was cautiously optimistic.

“The very fact they already accepted to speak is progress in itself,” he stated.

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