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South Africa Military Delegation in Russia to Discuss Combat Readiness

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speak during a Russia-Africa Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Oct. 23, 2019.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speak during a Russia-Africa Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Oct. 23, 2019.

South Africa's main opposition party is demanding to know why there is a high-level defense delegation in Moscow discussing increased cooperation and combat readiness. The news comes just days after the U.S. ambassador accused South Africa of selling weapons to Russia in violation of its claims of non-alignment in Moscow's war on Ukraine.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on defense and lawmaker Kobus Marais, says the visit led by the chief of the South African army, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha was unannounced.

“This once again demonstrates the ANC government’s insensitivity to our diplomatic and trade dilemma," said Marais. "The visit is the latest in a string where the South African government clearly and unashamedly demonstrates its support for Russia.”

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety made headlines last week when he said he would bet his life that South Africa had supplied arms to Russia.

Marais, who is the shadow minister for defense and military veterans, says the Democratic Alliance has intelligence on what Brigety referred to. He says something worthy of being guarded by men in uniform was loaded onto a Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, when it was docked at Simon’s Town Naval Base in December.

“We also know that the U.S. is probably the most advanced in terms of observation technology and specifically with regard to satellites," said Marais. "We know that they can zoom into any port or airport or even battlefield and tell you exactly what color shirt and pants you are wearing so I assume that they have got their own intelligence that can be used to see from above.”

Marais says the unconfirmed rumors that ammunition was taken onto the Lady R seem plausible because the Russian military is struggling in Ukraine.

“What we know is what has been reported that they are in dire straits in terms of ammunition," said Marais. "But that is why we need to establish and know what they have loaded. We know it was not consumables like apples and pears.”

In WhatsApp messages, Ukraine’s Ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova wrote that it is “disturbing” how Russia is eager to make South Africa appear to be on its side and even more disturbing that South Africa is not postponing engagements such as the delegation’s trip to Moscow.

Referring to a statement by South Africa’s military that the visit to Moscow was planned well in advance, Abravitova said previously made agreements between Russia and South Africa “cannot justify the intensification of military contacts with the country that violates all possible rules of international law and U.N. Charter.”

South African officials are trying to decide whether to host Russian President Vladimir Putin at the BRICS summit it is holding for leaders of its partner countries in the bloc: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin on charges of war crimes involving the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine.

Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu of Nelson Mandela University says if he had his way, he would ask Putin not to come.

“Simply because with him coming here that will put us in a very awkward situation," said Mngomezulu. "At the moment, we are signatories of the Rome Statute which therefore means that we are obliged to arrest him.”

The BRICS summit takes place in August.