The U.S. ambassador to South Africa was summoned by the country’s foreign ministry on Friday following his allegations that South Africa had supplied Russia with arms and ammunition for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor is also planning to have a discussion with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the matter. The South African committee responsible for regulating arms exports has stated that there is no official record of an approved arms sale to Russia during the specified period. If any wrongdoing is proven, legal action will be taken.
During a press conference, U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety confidently claimed that weapons and ammunition were discreetly loaded onto a Russian cargo ship at the Simon’s Town naval base in December and subsequently transported to Russia. Brigety firmly stood by his assertion and condemned South Africa’s provision of arms to Russia as completely unacceptable.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that an investigation is underway into the visit of the Russian cargo ship Lady R in December. Prior to Brigety’s public statement, U.S. and South African officials had agreed that the investigation should proceed and incorporate any evidence shared by U.S. intelligence officials.
If South Africa is found to have provided arms to Russia, it may be in violation of international law. The president’s office has released a statement asserting that there is currently no evidence to support the claim that weapons or ammunition were loaded onto the ship at the Simon’s Town base or anywhere else in the country.
The Associated Press has independently confirmed Brigety’s claim that the Lady R was indeed at the South African naval base from December 6 to 8. Furthermore, records indicate that the Lady R is associated with a company that has been sanctioned by the U.S. for facilitating the transport of weapons on behalf of the Russian government in support of its war efforts.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock anticipates that the situation will be discussed during a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Stockholm on Friday. While acknowledging that these are only allegations at this stage, Baerbock emphasized that any exports of weapons to Russia would constitute an extension of an aggressive war in violation of international law, and thus the reports are being taken very seriously.
The South African government has criticized Brigety for publicly making these allegations, and it intends to lodge a formal complaint, known as a “demarche,” against the ambassador. Despite this episode, the South African government values its cordial, strong, and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.
South Africa’s position regarding the Ukraine conflict has raised concerns among the U.S. and other Western nations. South Africa abstained from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion, opting for a neutral stance and advocating for a diplomatic solution to end the fighting. Critics argue that South Africa effectively aligned itself with Russia by hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks in January and permitting Russian and Chinese warships to conduct joint naval drills off its east coast in February, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Furthermore, the South African government has indicated its unwillingness to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to visit for a meeting of leaders from the BRICS economic bloc in August, despite the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for him. As a signatory to the international court, South Africa is legally obligated to apprehend Putin should he set foot on its territory.
South Africa’s historical relationship with Russia stems from the support it received from the former Soviet Union during the African National Congress’ struggle against the apartheid regime, which oppressed the country’s Black majority.