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Pretoria calls on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine

Pretoria calls on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits USA House in the Olympic Village on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo: Marianna Massey/Getty Images for USOC)

After initially calling on both sides to exercise restraint, South Africa has taken a strong stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urging it to withdraw its forces.

The South African government has surprised the international community by calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Before that, Pretoria had remained silent on the crisis in Ukraine or had adopted an even-handed approach, calling on both sides to seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution to their dispute — as though Russia and Ukraine were equal culprits in the conflict.

But on Thursday, after Russian troops rolled across the Ukrainian border, Pretoria issued a statement much closer to what many had demanded. 

“South Africa calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine in line with the United Nations Charter, which enjoins all member states to settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered,” the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said. 

Pretoria said Russia should withdraw from Ukraine out of  “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states”.

Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, welcomed this Dirco statement as a “strong message to Russia”. She had expressed dismay about the previous Dirco statement on Wednesday which had called on both sides to exercise restraint and pursue dialogue.

South Africa had until Thursday been constrained by its joint membership with Russia in the BRICS Forum, its strong bilateral relations with Russia and its suspicions about Nato expanding its powers in Europe.

At a press conference on Thursday, Abravitova called on Pretoria and other countries to join the G7 and European Union in imposing severe sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine.

Asked if she had tried to contact her Russian counterpart in South Africa, Ilya Rogachev, she said she had not because she had nothing to say to him.

“Their hands are in my people’s blood,” she said, expressing concerns about her relatives in Odessa, the southern Ukrainian port city which was among the targets of Russia’s attack. 

The EU and G7 organisations were due to meet late on Thursday to decide on what was expected to be a tough package of measures against Russia, including many directed at the country’s leadership. Some Western governments are calling for Russia to be completely cut off from the international financial system. One diplomat told Daily Maverick that although it was a major military power, Russia was economically weak, with an economy no larger than Spain’s. 

“If we cut them off from global finance, it won’t bring change to Ukraine now but it will eventually bring down the Russian regime.”

French officials briefing journalists in Paris said the sanctions could also include measures directed personally at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is believed to have vast assets abroad.

However, it was not clear that EU countries were united in seeking such tough measures, which would also have a blowback effect on the European and Western economies.

Western governments also expressed concern that China might seize Taiwan while the world is distracted by the conflict in Ukraine. 

Dirco’s strong statement said: “South Africa is dismayed at the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. We regret that the situation has deteriorated despite calls for diplomacy to prevail. 

A missile wedged into a damaged roadside in the aftermath of Russian military operation in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 24 February 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Kozlov)

“Armed conflict will no doubt result in human suffering and destruction, the effects of which will not only affect Ukraine but also reverberate across the world.  

“No country is immune to the effects of this conflict,” Dirco said, endorsing UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ concern that the invasion would have a huge impact on the global economy — particularly developing countries — just as the world was emerging from the Covid pandemic.

It added that as a nation “birthed through negotiation”, South Africa appreciated the potential for dialogue to avert or de-escalate crises. 

“South Africa urges all parties to devote increased efforts to diplomacy and to find a solution that will help avert further escalation.”

Pretoria implicitly also deferred to Russia’s demand that the West should not extend the frontiers of Nato up to Russia’s border, calling on all parties “to resume diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the concerns raised by Russia”.

The statement also called on all parties to respect human rights and international and humanitarian law, to pursue regional peace initiatives such as the Minsk Agreements, and those of the Normandy Format, the Trilateral Contact Group and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It urged the UN Security Council to play its role in the search for peace. 

In Paris, the French government defended the continuing resort to sanctions on Russia, despite the apparent failure of the sanctions imposed by Western nations after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.  

French officials said the earlier sanctions had for some time succeeded in changing the way Moscow behaved. “Right now, clearly that’s not enough,” said one French official regarding the invasion. 

Nevertheless, he said, tougher sanctions could deter Russia from further military actions beyond Ukraine. “It’s a deterrent on what’s happening next,” he added. 

The point of the sanctions would be to deter Putin from proceeding from Ukraine to attack neighbouring countries which were members of Nato.

“You can agree or disagree with this, but quite early in the discussion the US and Nato have made clear Ukraine is not an ally, so therefore there is not the same kind of security degree as towards Nato allies,” the French official continued.

“It is important to make clear that the Nato alliance is a big difference. And our assessment is that there is no temptation in the Kremlin towards further military operations towards the Nato alliance because the alliance is much more credible now than it was before.”

The deterrence against attacks on Nato included not only tougher sanctions, but also the reinforcement by Nato of its forces in Nato countries bordering Russia, he said.

Daily Maverick sought comment from the Russian embassy in Pretoria, which had not responded at the time of writing. DM


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles Parr says:

    I’m sure that Putin is alarmed to know has CR finally has the strength to express an opinion.

  • Craig B says:

    This article is misleading as it wasn’t Pretoria in the way we use Pretoria to mean the seat of South Africa. It was issued by Dirco so by comparison it could be said that a statement was issued by Centurion not even Waterkloof as that is already a Gupta portal. The point is the cabinet can’t agree on the supremacy of the constitution let alone the sovereign integrity of a state.

  • Peter Worman says:

    A comment from Plato’s Laws is relevant in this respect:”In like manner, no one would ever become a true statesman by focusing exclusively upon external warfare, as a means of ensuring the happiness of the city and of the individual. Nor would he ever be a lawgiver in the strict sense of the word, unless he instituted laws relating to warfare, for the sake of peace, rather than instituting laws relating to peace, for the sake of warfare”.

  • Peter Doble says:

    Given the state of the defence force, I expect Putin is quaking in his boots! However as part of the geopolitical group does SA now sit the wrong side of the Iron Curtain?

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Has the current regime not always pretended to been sitting on the ‘curtain’ … err fence I mean. No wonder the ethical stance of an Arch in all matters was so prickly/edgy to many in the ruling class ! The only question now … is for how long ?

    • Craig B says:

      At least we know the world won’t impose sanctions on South Africa as government has taken care of that already.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    I feel this is significant – remember how close Mantashe and Mabula are to the Kremlin? Well, this is about as close to a BRICS slap as any South African could have expected. Well done! Some balls at last … and for knowing what is right.

  • Tony Reilly says:

    Oh dear, where will Mabuza go for his next check-up ?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    If the pictures on television last night are correct, in the midst of the Putin’s slaughter of Ukrainians … the prime minister of Pakistan was dignifying Napoleon with a visit. Whether it was to congratulate Putin or beg him not to invade Pakistan next …. remained unexplained.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Diplomatically neutral at best. While advising the west to accede to Russia’ demands on Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, they ask then to pull back their forces. A few years ago in Kyiv, I walked past the South African embassy, and noticed that the flag was flying upside town-picky, I know. But having time on my hands, I knocked on the door and introduced myself as a fellow South African working in Ukraine. Not at all friendly, and when I pointed out that the flag was upside down, I was told that ‘people in these Russian countries will not notice anyway’. Enough said.

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Yes, indeed, trying to be as neutral as possible, especially given statements made by the President this morning encouraging mediation, and indicating that if meetings between the US and Russian Presidents had gone ahead, there might have been a solution found! There is certainly not going to be any strong actions taken (like sanctions), and it is interesting that there are many who seem to think that the statement made by DIRCO yesterday was going too far! South Africa really should seriously reconsider being aligned with the BRICS countries, it is really not clear what benefit South Africa derives from being a “member” of the group, and looking at the other leaders currently in that grouping, they are either seriously autocratic (Russia and China), or negatively populist (Brazil and India), it is really not a grouping to associate with if there really is a serious support of human rights and democracy. But of course, that is not going to happen, and SA is going to be continuing to be associated with that unsavoury cabal!

    • Charles Parr says:

      Well done Rob, nouf said.

  • Coen Gous says:

    I am sure Putin, and Russia, are peeing in their boots right now. Pretoria, or is it Dirco, CR or the ANC NEC, have spoken! If the rest of the world’s sanctions/threats do not work, this message from SA certainly will give them a wake-up call. And if all fails, call in Zuma. He has the toughness, experience, and army/police, freedom fighters, ANC women’s league, and the like to take the fight to them!

    • Charles Parr says:

      Not really, they’re checking whether there are enough helicopters to evacuate their senior officers from the field of battle. Just so that they’re not caught red handed, so to speak.

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