Thandi Modise at Russian security conference shows ‘solidarity with occupiers and aggressors’
Experts have questioned whether the Russians have anything to teach South Africa militarily and whether it was ethical for Modise to associate with Russia’s military at this time.
Defence minister Thandi Modise’s participation in a Russian conference on international security — while the Russian military is attacking Ukraine — has sparked criticism at home and in Ukraine.
A Ukrainian security expert said the conference was of no intrinsic value to others and was merely an attempt by Russia to solicit solidarity from countries such as South Africa.
Modise’s office announced she had arrived in Moscow on Monday to attend the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security at the invitation of the Russian Minister of Defence, General Sergei Shoigu.
The conference would be attended by defence ministers from different countries and military experts and “key stakeholders.” Modise would address the conference on Tuesday.
Professor Abel Esterhuyse, chair of strategic studies at Stellenbosch University, said in principle it was important, at the operational level, for South Africa to work with foreign militaries — especially “paradigm militaries” which were copied by many others. But even at the operational level, he questioned “whether we want the Russian military to be our paradigm military, whether it’s the military which the South African military really wants to learn from, given the Russian military doctrine and military culture.”
He said South Africa’s military was essentially based on the British military model. And so he questioned why South Africa suddenly wanted to learn from the Russians. Esterhuyse also questioned the ethics of Modise attending a military conference in Moscow while Russia was conducting “its so-called special military operations in Ukraine”.
He said it was an open-ended question whether South Africa should support Russia or not, “whether we should actually choose sides”.
“But the fact of the matter is that Russia is the aggressor in that situation. And one needs to bring in a comparative approach here and ask yourself whether South Africa would fly to Israel if we got the same type of invitation from Israel to attend a military conference?
“Whether our minister would fly to Israel? Because Israel in the Palestine conflict obviously seems to be, or is considered by our government to be, an aggressor. So there’s a huge ethical question hanging over our minister attending a military conference in particular,” Esterhuyse said, adding that it would be different if it were a trade conference or a technology conference.
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“Our government ought to be very cautious in aligning themselves too openly with the Russians,” he said.
Petro Chernyk, an independent Ukrainian military expert, said the conference Modise was attending with more than 35 of her counterparts from Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, was “only intended to raise the status of Russia”.
“Russia is trying to somehow whitewash its status as an aggressor country, a terrorist country, a country that resorts to nuclear blackmail and nuclear collapse for the whole world. I think that this conference has no real security aspects. Nothing serious should be expected from this event.”
Chernyk also suggested that Russia was experiencing a shortage of weapons because of the war in Ukraine and might be using the conference in Moscow as an opportunity to ask some of the defence ministers attending the conference to return some of the weapons they had bought from Russia — particularly armoured vehicles and aircraft.
‘Solidarity with aggressors’
When Russia was committing “aggression against an independent state” and committing “direct genocide against the Ukrainian people”, the presence of any defence minister at the conference “is nothing but solidarity with the occupiers and aggressors”.
All countries should have boycotted the conference, he said.
Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, said she could not comment on South African politics, but that it was “cynical and wild” for Russia, the “neo-colonial aggressor which is violating international law and threatening the global security system to be hosting an international security conference”.
“I’m wondering if the leaders of the so-called LRP and DPR are invited as well” she added, referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, two regions of eastern Ukraine that Russia recognised as independent pro-Russian states just before invading Ukraine, and which it has now largely occupied militarily.
Abravitova said inviting Modise to this conference “could be a provocative move towards South Africa” by Russia. She appeared to be suggesting that Moscow was trying to compromise Pretoria’s relations with the West. DM