South Africa supplying Russia War Effort

A Russian ship, the Lady R, docked at South Africa’s Simon’s Town naval base outside Cape Town in December. PHOTO: ESA ALEXANDER/REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG—South Africa supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia with the help of a Russian cargo ship that surreptitiously docked at the country’s largest naval base in December, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa said in a briefing with local journalists on Thursday.

The comments from Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II were reported by local media outlets and confirmed by a person present at the briefing. They are bound to further complicate the relationship between the U.S. and South Africa, a country that has officially pledged neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that Washington and Europe have tried to draw closer to the Western alliance against Moscow.

Now, the U.S. and its Western allies will have to decide whether to place sanctions on South African officials and entities involved in the alleged supply of potential war materials to Russia and risk alienating Africa’s most developed economy and one of its most established democracies.

“Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship in the Simon’s Town naval base between 6th to 8th December, 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition onto that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,” Mr. Brigety, the ambassador, was quoted saying on online news site News24.

“The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved, and we would like SA to [start] practicing its nonalignment policy,” he said, according to the news site.

A spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government would launch an inquiry into the matter, led by a retired judge, but added that the U.S. had provided no evidence for its ambassador’s allegations.

“The ambassador’s remarks undermine the spirit of cooperation and partnership that characterized the recent engagements between U.S. government officials and a South African official delegation,” the spokesman said in a statement.

South Africa’s defense minister, Thandi Modise, has previously declined to say what the Russian ship, the Lady R, had picked up in South Africa when it docked at the Simon’s Town naval base just outside Cape Town between Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 while its transponders were turned off.

“Whatever contents this vessel was getting were ordered long before Covid,” Ms. Modise said at a December media briefing, adding that the U.S. “threatens Africa, not just South Africa, of having anything that is even smelling of Russia.”

The U.S. State Department declined to discuss the alleged weapons transfers and whether it planned to sanction anyone who would have been involved.

“We have serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned Russian vessel at a South African naval port in December of last year,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in response to reporters’ questions Thursday.

Mr. Patel said that American officials have raised their concerns directly with multiple South African officials and that Washington remains committed to the “affirmative agenda of our bilateral relationship with South Africa.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose spokesman said a retired judge would lead an inquiry into the alleged weapons transfers to Russia. PHOTO: THEMBA HADEBE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The U.S. had already sanctioned the Lady R and its owner, MG-FLOT, based in Dagestan, Russia, in May 2022 for allegedly carrying weapons on behalf of Moscow.

MG-FLOT, which previously used the name Transmorflot, didn’t respond to an email sent to addresses listed online seeking comment. The press attaché for the Russian Embassy in Pretoria couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria had alerted the South African government to the fact that the Lady R was under sanctions before it docked at the Simon’s Town base, but received no response.

Vessel-tracking services indicate that the Lady R switched off its automatic transponders, which relay a ship’s identity and position to other vessels and maritime authorities, on Dec. 6. Two South African navy tugboats then helped it to a berth at the Simon’s Town base near Cape Town, according to witnesses.

Witnesses said they saw trucks with escort vehicles carrying shipping containers onto the base under the cover of darkness. One resident said she was chased down Simon’s Town’s empty streets after she tried to follow an empty truck leaving the base.

The Lady R left Simon’s Town the morning of Dec. 9. When the ship started transmitting a position again in the evening of that day, it was anchored more than 100 miles east of Simon’s Town, tracking services showed. According to tracking service ShipNext, the Lady R arrived in the Russian Black Sea city of Novorossiysk on Feb. 16, where it stayed for seven days.

John Steenhuisen, the leader of South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the U.S. ambassador’s comments were “a chilling and deeply troubling confirmation that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government are actively involved in the Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine.”

Benoit Faucon in London, Laurence Norman in Berlin and William Mauldin in Washington contributed to this article

————————————————————————————- Its nice to know who your REAL friends & Enemies are during this fight! Grumpy

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