Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
ad a b
ad ad ad

Russia's Role in Increasing Tensions between the United States and South Africa

Wednesday 07/June/2023 - 09:15 PM
The Reference
Mahmoud Al-Batakoshi

In a cat-and-mouse game with shifting positions, the relationship between the United States and Russia has evolved since the end of World War II in 1945, when the Allies defeated the Axis powers and Moscow and Washington emerged as two superpowers dominating the world. The Cold War between them continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, tensions resurfaced when Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power at the end of 1999, and they escalated further following the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war on February 24, 2022.

A Prolonged Conflict

The US-Russian conflict has expanded to involve numerous countries and continents, particularly Africa, as both countries vie to establish their influence over African nations due to their abundant natural resources and wealth.

Russia's proximity to South Africa has caused the United States to adopt a hostile stance towards the latter. Washington accuses Pretoria of smuggling weapons and ammunition from Moscow, seeing it as clear support by the Russian bear against Ukraine in the ongoing war. Additionally, South Africa's previous refusal to endorse Western sanctions against Russia, as well as allowing Russian and Chinese warships to conduct joint naval exercises off its eastern coast in February 2023, coinciding with the first anniversary of the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, have strained its relations with Europe to their lowest point since the beginning of the 21st century.

US Concerns

According to Mahmoud Al-Afendi, an expert in international relations, South Africa's stance on the Russian attack on Ukraine, which has remained neutral for about 15 months, has raised concerns among the United States and its allies. This is especially evident after most African countries, led by Pretoria, abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning the Russian attack. South Africa announced its neutral position on the war and called for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

Al-Afendi added that the straw that broke the camel's back was South Africa's hosting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks at the beginning of 2023. Moreover, South Africa allowing Russian and Chinese warships to use its waters for joint naval exercises in February last year, coinciding with the first anniversary of the Russian-Ukrainian war, was seen as clear bias towards Moscow against Western countries.

Al-Afendi pointed out that Russia is trying to establish a foothold in Africa by presenting itself as a security mediator to counter Western plans. Russia portrays itself as a defender of African countries, attempting to reclaim its role from the Soviet Union era when it supported liberation movements across Africa, resulting in the independence of several African nations. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office, he has been working to continue the Soviet Union's strategy of establishing strong relations with African countries, assisted by Wagner Group, its security and military arm, which acts as a bridge to access Africa. Wagner Group has helped secure individuals who have come to power and had previous connections with Russia.

The international affairs expert also mentioned that the accusations made by the US Ambassador to South Africa, Robin Bridgette, regarding Pretoria's shipment of weapons and ammunition to Russia to assist it in its war with Ukraine reveal the extent of tension between the two countries. The US ambassador confirmed that her country had detected the secret loading of ammunition and weapons on board the Russian truck Lady R at the Simon's Town Naval Base near Cape Town, South Africa. It is believed that these are electronic weapons such as circuit boards or command and control systems that Moscow finds difficult to acquire due to Western sanctions, as well as self-propelled Howitzer systems. South Africa vehemently denied these allegations, fearing economic sanctions being imposed on it.

Washington - Tensions continue to rise between the United States and South Africa due to Russia's growing proximity to the African nation. Washington is concerned that Pretoria is not taking a neutral stance on the Russian-Ukrainian war. Evidence of this is South Africa's joint naval exercises with Russia and China off its coasts, defying American warnings on the matter. Moreover, South Africa allowed a massive Russian cargo plane, an Antonov, to land at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in the south of the country in late April 2023, despite the aircraft being subject to US sanctions.

Mahmoud Al-Afendi, an expert in international relations, emphasized that the Washington administration may impose significant economic restrictions on South Africa, particularly affecting its exports and negatively impacting its national income. This is compounded by South Africa's shaky reputation as a financial center due to its failure to combat financial crime. Al-Afendi warned that these pressures may drive Pretoria to increase its cooperation with Moscow as a means to escape American pressure. A clear indication of this is the recent visit of Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, the commander of the South African Army, to Moscow on May 16, 2023, aimed at intensifying cooperation between the two countries.