US envoy to South Africa Reuben Brigety has accused South Africa of secretly supplying arms to Russia, despite its official stance of neutrality in the Ukraine war.
Brigety made the remarks during a media briefing on Thursday, stating that the US had evidence that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian freighter that docked at a Cape Town naval base in December. The US envoy expressed confidence in the validity of this information.
“The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved, and we would like South Africa to start practising its non-alignment policy,” Brigety said.
Although a source at the meeting confirmed the US envoy’s remarks to AFP, the US embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
South Africa has not publicly denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has maintained its neutrality in the conflict, promoting dialogue as the means to resolve the issue.
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Some critics however, point to recent incidents as evidence of a pro-Kremlin bias, despite South Africa’s position as a prominent African nation with a strong moral standing due to its successful struggle against apartheid.
South Africa has faced a diplomatic dilemma as it continues to balance its stance of neutrality in the Ukraine conflict against recent incidents suggest a tilt towards the Kremlin.
In earlier this year, South Africa conducted a joint military exercise with Russia and China, and last month, a Russian military cargo plane, under sanctions from the West, landed at a South African air force base in the middle of the night to deliver what was described by defense authorities as “diplomatic mail.”
Ambassador Brigety’s comments appeared to reference a previous incident involving the Lady R, a cargo vessel, also under Western sanctions and flying a Russian flag, which docked at South Africa’s largest naval base.
“Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship in the Simon’s Town naval base between 6th to 8th December 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition onto that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,” the envoy said.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa responded to the accusation made by the US envoy during a parliamentary session on Thursday, stating that the matter concerning the Lady R was being investigated and that more information would be made available in due time.
South Africa has been navigating a delicate diplomatic balance between maintaining its neutral stance in the Ukraine conflict and its longstanding relationship with Russia, which dates back to the Kremlin’s support for the African National Congress during apartheid.
South Africa is also a member of BRICS, which advocates for multilateralism as a counterbalance to the US-led international order.
In March, South Africa was faced with another diplomatic challenge after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was set to attent a BRICS summit in South Africa.
The situation led to a proposal for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC, which was later rescinded due to a communication error.
The news of the US envoy’s remarks caused the rand to drop sharply aginst the dollar, reaching its lowest point in three years.