South Africa says the US ambassador apologized for alleging the country supplied arms to Russia
The South African Foreign Ministry says that the US Ambassador has “apologized without reservation” for his claim that the country had sold arms to Russia.
Reuben Brigety claimed on Thursday that a Russian vessel was loaded with weapons and ammunition in Cape Town, last December.
South Africa has said it does not have any record of an arms sale. President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered an investigation.
The White House National Security spokesman refused to comment on the details of the allegations.
John Kirby, however, said that it was a serious issue and the US has consistently warned countries to refrain from providing support for Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
After meeting with the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Brigety wrote on social media that he felt “grateful to… correct any misimpressions my public remarks may have left”.
He said in the conversation he “re-affirmed the strong partnership between our two countries and the important agenda our presidents have given us”.
Meanwhile, a South African cabinet minister hit out at such “megaphone diplomacy”, saying South Africa could not be “bullied by the US”.
“It is the US which has sanctions against Russia… they must not drag us into their issues with Russia,” Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a minister in the presidency, told public broadcaster SABC.
Her bullish comments followed a Kremlin statement saying President Vladmir Putin had spoken to his South African counterpart by phone and the two had agreed to deepen “mutually beneficial ties”.
There is no dispute that a Russian ship, known as Lady R, docked at a naval base near Cape Town last December – prompting questions from local politicians at the time. Whether the ship was supplied with arms before returning to Russia still needs to be established.
If the accusations are true, South Africa will have violated its own Arms Control Act, which commits to “not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism”.
In the same act, South Africa describes itself as a “responsible member of the international community”.
South Africa is one of a handful of countries that has abstained from a number of UN votes on the conflict and has refused to publicly condemn Russia, insisting it is non-aligned on the matter.
For months the regional superpower has been saying it instead supports a mediated settlement to the conflict.
Supplying arms while claiming to be neutral would not only rubbish that stance but would leave South Africa with a lot to answer both to its citizens and the international community.
Some in the governing African National Congress (ANC) appear to have a lingering affection for Russia because of the then-USSR’s support for their fight against white-minority rule. But in present-day South Africa, many have been asking questions about whether this love affair truly serves South Africa’s interests.
Experts say the country has more in common and a much bigger trade relationship with the West. Some are worried about a possible economic impact if ties with the US strain further.
The country’s currency, the rand, which has been struggling for weeks as a result of months of rolling power cuts, weakened even further following the US ambassador’s accusations.
It is an additional problem that South African citizens can scarcely afford.