Russian President Vladimir Putin greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during a welcome ceremony at the Russia-Africa Summit. File photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
President cyril ramaphosa faces his toughest diplomatic crisis since taking office following accusations made by the us ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, that the country is supplying arms and ammunition to Russia.
If true, the allegations would signal to the West that the Ramaphosa-led government had deviated from its oft-stated “non-aligned stance” on the Russia-Ukraine war.
During a media briefing on Thursday, the US ambassador made explosive claims that weapons were loaded onto the US-sanctioned Russian freighter known as the Lady R, when it docked at the Simon’s Town naval base between 6 and 8 December last year.
Brigety said Washington was “certain” that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto Lady R before she returned to Russia.
He said that arming the Russians was “extremely serious,” that the issue was not resolved and that the country should put its non-aligned stance into practice.
Brigety said the United States recognized South Africa’s right to diplomatic relations, but from washington the concern was actions that deviated from non-alignment, particularly in areas of conflict.
The United States supported countries making sovereign decisions, he said, and remained open to continued dialogue with the government “on all geopolitical matters, precisely because we believe that South Africa is such an important partner, not just bilaterally with us, but in the global international system”.
Responding to Brigety in a statement late Thursday, Ramaphosa’s office said his comments undermined the spirit of cooperation and partnership that characterized recent engagements between US government officials and an official South African delegation led by the Special National Security Adviser to the President, Dr. Sydney. Mufamadi.
“It is public knowledge that a Russian ship known as the Lady R docked in South Africa. Since then, allegations have been made about the purpose of the trip. While no evidence has been provided to date to support these allegations, the government has pledged to launch an independent investigation led by a retired judge.
“In recent engagements between the South African delegation and US officials, the matter of Lady R was discussed and there was agreement that an investigation will be allowed to run its course and that US intelligence services will provide any evidence that is in their possession. can”.
Brigety noted that since arriving in South Africa, he had repeatedly tried to open a dialogue with the ANC, adding that the ruling party had recently responded to repeated inquiries from the United States.
He said Washington “cannot understand” the ANC’s hostility towards the United States, “given the unprecedented openness and generosity that South Africa brings to our market, which we have done for almost a quarter of a century.”
While relations between the United States and South Africa were strained, Brigety said he could not “under any circumstances anticipate the United States downgrading or reducing its political engagement” with the South African government.
He said Washington was clear in expressing the seriousness of its concerns to Pretoria.
Tensions build as South Africa grapples with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is attending the Brics summit in Durban in August, despite the fact that the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him. South Africa is a full member of the court and is required to arrest Putin for alleged war crimes.
Brigety said Washington could not understand why the government would not “publicly commit” to its obligation under the Rome Statute.