South Africa allows Russian plane to land at base under US sanctions


JOHANNESBURG – South African authorities last week allowed a cargo plane targeted by US sanctions to support Russia’s military efforts to land at an air force base near the capital, Pretoria, a move that drew criticism from the United States. With can further increase the tension.

US officials said earlier The plane has been known to ship weapons to Russia’s defense forces, South Africa’s defense department said in a statement on Wednesday that the plane was carrying diplomatic mail for the Russian embassy. South African officials declined to say exactly what was loaded and unloaded.

South Africa’s decision to allow the plane to land contrasts with US efforts to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Although South Africa is not bound by US sanctions, the landing “will only serve to exacerbate strained relations with the US,” said Steven Gruzd, a researcher on Russia’s relations with Africa at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

While South Africa has declared neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war, he said, its foreign policy is increasingly tilted toward Russia.

“It’s always an option,” Mr Grudge said. “South Africa is choosing to do that.”

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Pretoria declined to comment on the landing. The Russian Embassy also did not respond to a message sent to the spokesperson.

Landing, As reported by Business Day on ThursdayA South African news outlet, comes as the United States was already voicing concerns about whether the government in Pretoria is aiding Moscow during the war in Ukraine.

United States South Africa has been warned If it is found that Russia has provided material support for the war, it may face consequences. During a visit to South Africa in January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States would respond “swiftly and harshly” to governments violating US sanctions, a message that another top Treasury official echoed in a meeting with the South African delegation. echoed in the meeting. World Bank and International Monetary Fund gathering of the month.

Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that allowing the plane to land was an insult to South Africa’s relationship with the United States.

“The South African people remain important partners of the United States, but we cannot accept our government’s continued hostile actions against American sovereign interests and must respond appropriately,” he said.

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is already facing a political storm over whether his government will fulfill an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for President Vladimir V. Putin if the Russian leader returns to power in August. visit the country as part of the summit planned for

Flight radar records show the plane, an Ilyushin IL-76, originated at Russia’s Chkalovsky military airfield near Moscow on April 21 and made stops in the Middle East and Africa: Baghdad; Cairo; Damascus, Syria; Algiers; and Marrakesh, Morocco. After this it went to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria and went on to Angola.

The Defense Department said the plane took off from Luanda, Angola, and landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base in South Africa on April 24. (On that day, flight records show an unknown stop, believed to have been in South Africa.) The plane flew to Harare, Zimbabwe, the next day.

The Defense Department statement said the Russian embassy had made a formal request to South Africa’s foreign ministry to allow the plane to land at the base, where diplomatic aircraft are allowed to travel.

Cobus Marais, a member of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it is not unusual for countries to deliver diplomatic correspondence by plane, but such delivery is open to abuse. Mr Marais questioned why the plane did not use a nearby commercial airport, which is more specialized for offloading diplomatic bags, he said.

Diplomatic mail can be as small as a few envelopes or as large as a container, but Helmoed Heitman, a defense analyst, said it was unusual for Russia to use cargo aircraft to deliver packages to its embassy.

Flight planning and landing were most affected by Western sanctions, Mr Heitman said. “They probably suspected that if they landed at a commercial airport, they might be arrested,” he added.

The plane belongs to Aviacon Zhitotrans, a Russian company, and was one of the company’s planes under sanctions by the US Treasury Department in January. Comprehensive measures against Russian entities, Aviacon did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The Treasury Department said the company shipped military equipment around the world, including munitions and rockets.

In December, a Russian container ship named Lady R was allowed to dock in a South African naval port outside Cape Town under US sanctions. allowing a commercial vessel to use a naval facility Raised concern among South Africans,

A US official in South Africa said the US government believes munitions and rocket propellants that Russia could use in the war May have been loaded onto a Russian tanker.

South African Defense Minister Thandi Modis said the ship was fulfilling “an old outstanding order for ammunition”.

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