Can South Africa Be An Honest Broker For Peace In Ukraine?
After Beijing's dubious push to lead negotiations on settling the war in Ukraine, now it's South Africa's turn. But its "ambiguous" neutrality on the war — and reports of secret weapons sales to Russia — raise serious skepticism in Kyiv and the West.
PARIS — New peace initiatives for Ukraine continue to be announced one after the other, without much success. China has just sent an envoy to Kyiv, who will continue on to Moscow and Paris soon after.
Now, it's Africa's turn: a delegation of six African heads of state is expected soon to go to Kyiv and Moscow "to try to find a peaceful solution" to the conflict, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
When war is raging, all peace initiatives are welcome, of course. Still, questions remain about the true motivations behind these efforts.
China, which has an ideological alignment with Vladimir Putin's Russia, has significantly increased its purchases of Russian hydrocarbons, and took over a year to establish contact with Ukraine.
The same applies to the recently announced trip by the South African president. His country is at the center of a diplomatic storm over its relations with Russia, which raises serious questions. The peace initiative seems to come at the right time for South Africa to extricate from a diplomatic predicament.
Weapons from Cape Town?
South Africa, which has always remained “neutral” in Ukraine, is accused by the U.S. of secretly providing weapons to Russia. The American ambassador has made the accusation with very specific evidence, apparently documented by U.S. intelligence.
According to the ambassador, Russian cargo ship "Lady R" took on South African weapons and ammunition at the naval base in Cape Town in Dec. 2022, despite being subject to U.S. sanctions.
The South African government was taken by surprise. President Ramaphosa announced the opening of an investigation, as if the trade could have happened without his government's knowledge. To make matters worse, the chief of the South African army was in Moscow not long ago to strengthen military ties with the Russian army, which does not exactly appear as a sign of neutrality.
11th BRICS leaders summit in Brazil
A U.S. threat
South Africa is a good example of countries that have refused to condemn the Russian invasion and play on an ambiguous "neutrality."
To understand the links between the ruling ANC party and Moscow, we need to look back to the fight against apartheid and the Soviet support. We can question this persistent loyalty with Russian aggression, but it adds to a rejection of the alignment expected by Western nations.
A peace initiative in Ukraine may make these problems fade into the background.
The problem is that South Africa benefits from preferential economic clauses from the U.S., a legacy of Nelson Mandela's presidency. Behind the scenes, Washington is threatening to revoke these benefits if the country aligns itself with Russia.
The arms issue is therefore embarrassing, as is the prospect of hosting Vladimir Putin for a BRICS Summit, the gathering of emerging countries, which is scheduled to take place in South Africa this year. Putin's indictment by the International Criminal Court creates an additional puzzle.
A peace initiative in Ukraine may make these problems fade into the background. While still wishing the African heads of state in Kyiv and Moscow the best of luck, healthy skepticism remains the order of the day.
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