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US envoy claims Russian ship picked up weapons in South Africa


The US envoy to South Africa said on Thursday he was convinced a Russian ship picked up weapons in South Africa last year, in a possible breach of Pretoria’s declared neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.

The rand and South Africa’s 2030 government bond extended losses after the US assertion, as traders said they feared South Africa now faces sanctions Western.

The government is opening an independent investigation led by a retired judge into the allegation, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement.

Previously, Ramaphosa had neither confirmed nor denied that the dispatch had taken place when an opposition leader questioned him about it in parliament.

US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety told local reporters during a briefing that Washington was convinced a Russian ship loaded arms and ammunition from South Africa in December.

“Among the things we have noted is the docking of the Russian freighter Lady R at Simon’s Town between December 6 and 8, 2022, which we are sure loaded weapons, ammunition … while he was coming back to Russia,” Brigitte said.

“South Africa’s arming of Russia with the ship … is fundamentally unacceptable,” Brigety said, adding that senior US officials had “deep concerns” that South Africa was not complying. its professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality on Russia’s war in Ukraine. .

It “does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country,” he said in a recording of the briefing heard by Reuters.

South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies on a continent divided by its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but says it is impartial on the conflict and has abstained from voting on resolutions. the UN on war.

According to a biography published on the website of the US Embassy in South Africa, among his previous jobs, Brigety was a researcher in the arms division of Human Rights Watch.

Washington has repeatedly warned countries against providing material support to Russia, warning that those who do so could be denied access to the world’s most important markets.

In a Thursday briefing, US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel did not repeat the allegation that weapons had been loaded on the ship. He told reporters that Washington had serious concerns about the ship docking in a South African naval port and had raised those concerns directly with several South African officials.

“We have been pretty clear and not parsing the words about a country taking action to support Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine, and we will continue to engage with partners and countries on this,” Patel said.

Asked about South Africa’s promise to open an investigation, he said “it would certainly be a welcome step”.

The US Embassy in South Africa and the US Treasury Department declined to comment.

Brigety made the remarks to reporters after returning to Pretoria after accompanying a high-level South African delegation to the United States to address concerns over South Africa’s relationship with Russia.

The South African presidency said the issue of the alleged arms shipment had already been discussed with US officials who had agreed to let an investigation run its course, and no evidence had yet been provided by Washington.

“The ambassador’s remarks undermine the spirit of cooperation and partnership that has characterized recent engagements between US government officials and an official South African delegation,” the presidency said in its statement.

South Africa conducted joint naval exercises with Russia and China in February – calling it routine – about which the United States and other Western powers expressed concern at the time.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.