Saturday, December 2

South Africa Sparks Row with the US over Russian Cargo Plane Under Sanctions at Base

Tensions between Washington and Pretoria could increase over a Russian Cargo Plane having been under sanctions, that was allowed to land at Waterkloof air force base near Pretoria.1 The reason for sanctions against this plane is that it was shipping weapons for Russia’s defense force.2 The South African Department of Defense said in a statement on Wednesday that the plane had been delivering mail for the Russian embassy.3 South African officials have declined to  say precisely what was loaded on to and what was taken off the plane.4 This all sounds suspicious. They have lied about knowing what was taken off the plane and taken to customs offices which could put pressure on South Africa’s relations with the US. This could decrease trust in diplomatic circles where South Africa is concerned. 

South Africa’s decision to let the aircraft land runs counter to American efforts to isolate Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine. Although South Africa is not bound by the U.S. sanctions, the landing will “only serve to exacerbate the tense relations with the U.S.,” said Steven Gruzd, a researcher of Russia’s relationship with Africa at the South African Institute of International Affairs. While South Africa has declared neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war, he added, its foreign policy has increasingly leaned toward Russia. “It’s always a choice,” Mr. Gruzd said. “South Africa is choosing to do this.” A spokesman for the American Embassy in Pretoria declined to comment on the landing. The Russian Embassy also did not respond to a message sent to a spokesman. The landing, reported on Thursday by Business Day, a South African news outlet, comes as the United States was already expressing concern about whether the government in Pretoria has been aiding Moscow during the war in Ukraine. The United States has warned South Africa that it could face repercussions if it is found to have provided material support for Russia’s war. During a trip to South Africa in January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the United States would respond “quickly and harshly” to governments that violate U.S. sanctions, a message that another top Treasury official echoed in a meeting with the South African delegation at last month’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund gathering. (South Africa Allowed Russian Plane Under U.S. Sanctions to land at base)

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So now South Africa is in a quandary of its own making. We rely on the US heavily for trade and investment. South Africa’s jobs and incomes could be at stake given the close business relations we have with the Americans. If Pretoria leans too closely to Moscow it risks jeopardizing its relations with the US which has invested millions in the country. This fiasco with the plane landing is only the tipping point, how will South Africa be able to negotiate the attendance of President Vladimir Putin or any of his entourage when they arrive here for the BRICS Summit? South Africa is a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest.  This warrant could also include Putin’s advisors and generals.   

South African customs officials should disclose the details of what was taken off the plane if it was indeed mail (letters) then they have nothing to hide. Meanwhile the department of International Relations and Cooperation can be said to have made a diplomatic blunder that could have severe repercussions. The US department of State will be demanding answers and Pretoria will have to provide them. This is a time when our commitment to transparency and accountability will be severely tested.  

The fact that both the Russian embassy officials, and the International Relations and Cooperation Department are remaining silent on the issue does not help matters. If they cannot speak about what was transferred off the plane then they may have to cancel the BRICS Summit. It is no use inviting Putin here to attend when he has already been indicted as a war criminal by the ICC. Russia is a fossil fuel based economy unlike the US which has a more diverse based economy. Which is South Africa’s better business partner? With the Summit approaching only time will tell how this plays out.


The New York Times

South Africa Allowed Russian Plane Under U.S. Sanctions to Land at Base

The move could increase tensions between South Africa and the United States as it moves to isolate Moscow over the war in Ukraine. 1 2 3 4

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