JOHANNESBURG – The United States ambassador to South Africa has accused the country’s government of providing arms and ammunition to Russia during its invasion of Ukraine, raising tensions between Russia and the two countries over the war.
The ambassador, Reuben E. Brigetti II, told reporters Thursday that Washington has reason to believe that a Russian ship that docked last December at a South African naval base near Cape Town, the Lady R, carried “weapons and Ammunition uploaded.”
“We believe weapons were loaded onto that ship and I would stake my life on the accuracy of that claim,” according to a clip of his exchange with news media broadcast on the South African news channel Newsroom Afrika. ,
During an exchange with lawmakers in parliament on Thursday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said only that the matter relating to Lady R was being looked into.
Later on Thursday, Mr Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, criticized the ambassador’s statement, saying the two nations had agreed that the investigation into what happened to Lady R would be allowed to run its course and that US intelligence Will provide any proof. Was.
“It is therefore disappointing that the US ambassador has adopted an adversarial public posture that undermines the understanding reached on this matter,” Mr Magwenya said in a statement.
Mr Magwenya said that “no evidence has been provided to date to support” the allegations about the purpose of the ship docking. But Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, denied that claim.
Senator Van Hollen met with a South African government delegation that visited Washington last week, and he said in a statement that the visiting officials “indicated that they understood the seriousness of our concerns about their growing military ties to Russia.” are, and are taking it seriously.” We have presented evidence regarding the transfer of arms and ammunition to Russia.”
He said South African officials indicated they would hold anyone involved in the transfers accountable.
While the United States has called on its allies to condemn and isolate Russia, South African officials cite the African National Congress, the governing party, citing the support it received from the Soviet Union in the long fight against apartheid. Has refused to do so. that he was maintaining a neutral position on the fighting in Ukraine.
However, the US and other Western allies have said that South Africa has not been neutral and has, in fact, supported Russia. Ambassador Brigetti’s allegation that Pretoria is providing ammunition to Moscow is the most visible diplomatic blow yet in an increasingly strained relationship. He made the remarks during a press conference in Pretoria that was open only to South African media outlets.
The ambassador’s remarks came soon after South Africa’s currency, the rand, which had recently been falling in value against the US dollar, continued its decline.
Ambassador Brigitte’s comments came nearly a week after she visited Washington with a delegation of South African officials who held high-level talks with the Biden administration and lawmakers. The delegation sent by Mr. Ramaphosa from South Africa sought to iron out some of the differences between the countries.
John Steinhusen, leader of South Africa’s top opposition Democratic Alliance party, called the ambassador’s statement “a chilling and deeply troubling confirmation that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government are actively involved in the Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine.”
Senator Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the Biden administration to “re-evaluate the scope and scale of our current engagement with the government of South Africa.”
The US government has hinted at retaliating against South Africa if it is found to have aided Russia’s war effort or evaded sanctions. The United States has several options, including releasing sanctions and revoking trade privileges.
lynsey chutell Contributed reporting.