South Africa summons US ambassador over weapons for Russia allegations
May 12, 2023, 5:31 AM
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s foreign ministry summoned the U.S. Ambassador to a meeting Friday over allegations he made a day earlier that the country had provided arms and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Amid the diplomatic fallout over the allegations by the United States, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor will also speak with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (effectively the foreign ministry), said in a statement posted by spokesman Clayson Monyela on Twitter.
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety said at a press conference Thursday that South Africa had loaded weapons and ammunition onto a sanctioned Russian vessel at the Simon’s Town Naval Base near the city of Cape Town in December last year. The arms were then transported to Russia, Brigety said.
“We (the U.S.) are confident that weapons were loaded into that vessel and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion,” Brigety said. He called South Africa’s “arming” of Russia “fundamentally unacceptable.”
Following Brigety’s comments, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed an investigaton was underway into the visit by the Russian cargo ship Lady R in December. That investigation had started before Brigety went public with his accusation and would use any evidence U.S. intelligence officials had over the alleged arms, Ramaphosa said.
But his office said in a statement there was “no evidence” currently that arms were loaded onto the ship in South Africa. The foreign ministry added in a statement Friday there was “no record of an approved arms sale by the state to Russia related to the period/incident in question.”
The Associated Press has independently verified that the Lady R did visit the South African naval base from Dec. 6-8, as Brigety claimed. A review of records by the AP has also shown that the Lady R is tied to a company that has been sanctioned by the U.S. for transporting weapons for the Russian government and aiding its war effort.
The issue threatens to seriously strain the relationship between the U.S. and one of its key African partners. Monyela said South Africa would issue a “demarche” against Brigety for his allegations, a diplomatic term that refers to a formal complaint. Monyela also said in his Twitter post that South Africa “values the relations we have with the United States of America. They’re cordial, strong and mutually beneficial.”
Ramaphosa’s office criticized Brigety on Thursday for making the allegations public.
South Africa’s position on the war on Ukraine has troubled the U.S. and other Western nations ever since Africa’s most developed country abstained last year in a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion. South Africa stated it would take a neutral stance over the war and rather call for a diplomatic solution and an end to the fighting.
Critics said that South Africa had effectively sided with Russia after it hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks in January and allowed Russian and Chinese warships to use its waters for joint naval drills off its east coast in February. The exercises coincided with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The South African government has also indicated it would be unwilling to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits, as expected, for a meeting of leaders of the BRICS economic bloc in August despite the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for him.
South Africa is a signatory to the international court and is obliged to arrest Putin if he sets foot on its territory.
South Africa has a historical relationship with Russia due to the former Soviet Union’s support for the ruling African National Congress when it was a liberation movement fighting to end the apartheid regime of segregation that oppressed the country’s Black majority.