The US has accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia in a covert naval operation, escalating a foreign policy crisis for President Cyril Ramaphosa over the country’s ties to the Kremlin and position on the Ukraine war.
Reuben Brigety, US ambassador to South Africa, told local media on Thursday that the US believed weapons and ammunition were loaded on to the Lady R, a Russian vessel under sanctions that docked at Simon’s Town naval dockyard near Cape Town in December.
“Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship . . . which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition on to that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,” he said, in comments reported by South Africa’s News24.
Brigety also said that senior US officials had “profound concerns” about the incident, which “does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country”. The state department said the US had raised the issue directly with South African officials.
Spokesman Vedant Patel said: “The US has serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel at a South African naval port in December of last year.” “We have been quite clear and have not parsed words about any country taking steps to support Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine,” he added, “and we will continue to engage with partners and countries on this topic.”
Ramaphosa’s office responded by saying an independent inquiry would be set up under a retired judge to look into the allegations. It also said talks had been held between South African and US officials over the vessel and an agreement to allow investigations to continue.
“It is therefore disappointing that the US ambassador has adopted a counter-productive public position that undermines the understanding reached on the matter and the very positive and constructive engagements between the two delegations,” Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement.
US anger highlights the mounting tensions between the west and countries that have refused to condemn Russia over the war or join sanctions efforts.
Like South Africa, India has continued to regard Russia as a friendly nation and western diplomats have struggled to convince developing nations across Africa and Asia to back Ukraine.
Brigety also criticised a resolution from the ruling African National Congress, which said “the US provoked the war with Russia over Ukraine”.
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