South Africa accused of providing arms to Russia
The US ambassador to South Africa has accused the country of providing weapons and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine via a cargo ship that visited a naval base near Capetown.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said an investigation into the Russian vessel named Lady R was already underway with the help of US intelligence services before Ambassador Reuben Brigety went public to claim the cargo was weapons and ammunition.
Brigety said the US was certain that military equipment was loaded onto the Lady R at the Simon's Town naval base in December and then transported to Russia. He said it brought into question South Africa's supposed neutral stance on the war in Ukraine and its calls for the conflict to end.
"The arming of the Russians is extremely serious and we do not consider this issue to be resolved," Brigety said in comments reported by multiple South African news outlets.
If South Africa is found to be giving Russia military aid, it threatens to fracture the relationship between the United States and a key partner in Africa. The Biden Administration was hoping South Africa could be a key buffer against growing Russian and Chinese influence on the continent.
Ramaphosa's office said in a statement on Thursday that there was currently "no evidence" to support allegations that arms were loaded onto the Lady R/
The vessel is tied to a company that was sanctioned last year by the US for being involved in transporting military equipment for the Russian government.
The news of Brigety's comments broke while Ramaphosa was answering questions on other matters in Parliament. When the opposition leader. John Steenhuisen, asked about the weapons and ammunition, the president replied that "the matter is being looked into, and in time we will be able to speak about it."
Steenhuisen asked the president if South Africa was "actively arming Russian soldiers who are murdering and maiming innocent people?"
Ammunition supplies have become a problem for Russia in the war. The leader of Russian military company Wagner complained last week about his mercenary soldiers in Ukraine allegedly dealing with dire shortages.
The South African government has stated numerous times it is neutral on the war in Ukraine and wants the conflict resolved peacefully through diplomacy but recent displays of its closeness to Russia opened Africa's most developed country to accusations that it has effectively taken Russia's side.
South Africa hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks in January, giving him a platform to blame the West for the war in Ukraine.
Weeks later, South Africa allowed warships from the Russian and Chinese navies to perform drills off its east coast.
South Africa also faces a diplomatic dilemma over a possible visit this year by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged war crimes involving the abductions of children from Ukraine. Putin is due to visit South Africa in August for a meeting of leaders of the BRICS economic bloc, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
South Africa is a signatory to the international court based in The Hague, Netherlands, and obliged to arrest Putin. The government indicated it would not detain the Russian leader and threatened to leave the ICC instead. Ramaphosa's office released a statement last month backtracking on the threat.