PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM
Ukraine President Zelensky warns Ramaphosa against selling arms to Russia
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said, in his daily public address on Saturday, delivered from Rome, that he had asked the South African president to support his ‘peace formula’ for ending the war with Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned President Cyril Ramaphosa that any country supplying weapons to Russia would be an accomplice and would face consequences.
Zelensky’s warning came in a phone call with Ramaphosa which Ramaphosa himself initiated on Saturday. The day before, Ramaphosa had called Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zelensky also said, in his daily public address on Saturday, delivered from Rome, that he had asked Ramaphosa to support his “peace formula” for ending the war with Ukraine. He did not say what Ramaphosa’s response had been.
Daily Maverick asked Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, how Ramaphosa had responded to Zelensky’s warning about arms sales to Russia and his appeal for support for his peace plan. We also asked him if Ramaphosa had been pursuing a specific objective, such as a peace plan, in his calls to the two belligerents. Magwenya said he would issue a statement later.
US ambassador’s accusation
Zelensky was apparently responding to the accusation last week by the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, that South Africa had loaded weapons and ammunition for Russia on to the Russian cargo ship Lady R at the Simon’s Town Naval Base in December last year.
Brigety’s remarks caused a major diplomatic storm and he was démarched by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor. According to her office, Brigety had “apologised unreservedly” for “crossing the line” in his remarks at a media briefing.
In his own tweet on the meeting, however, Brigety did not apologise. He said he had corrected “any misimpressions left by my public remarks”.
Brigety’s accusation dropped the rand to new lows against the US dollar and also hammered the bond market.
In his public address from Rome on Saturday, after talking about his meetings with Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Zelensky said he had also spoken to Ramaphosa by phone.
He said they talked about “the peace formula, about justice, and about how our world should be united by the rules of international law”.
But then he added ominously: “Anyone who helps the aggressor with weapons will be an accomplice with all consequences.”
A calculated manouevre?
There has been huge speculation about Brigety’s bombshell and why he went public with the US accusations about the loading of arms on to Lady R. Did he just spontaneously explode with frustration over South Africa’s steady drift into the Russian camp ever since it invaded Ukraine on 24 February last year? Did he act without the approval of his government?
Or was this a calculated manoeuvre by the US government? It has been suggested that Brigety and Washington had grown frustrated that nearly six months after the Lady R secretly loaded and/or unloaded cargo during two nights in December — and three months after the US officially raised its suspicions with Pretoria about arms having been loaded — the South African government had done nothing about it.
On Saturday, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana disclosed that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had already raised the issue with him when she visited South Africa in February. Yet Pretoria seemed to have done nothing about it. It was only after Brigety’s public remarks that Ramaphosa’s office announced that SA and the US had already agreed that a retired judge would be appointed to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations.
In its response to Brigety’s remarks, Pretoria said it had not approved any arms sales to Russia. It did not say if unapproved arms might have been loaded on to the Lady R.
The minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told Radio 702 that the government’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), which deals with the regulation and control of the trade in conventional arms, had not approved the sale of weapons to Russia.
“There is no official authorisation for weapons to be sold to Russia and Ukraine. Whether weapons were loaded or not; that’s another matter. There is no authorisation, and if the weapons were loaded in the vessel, the inquiry will determine that. And those people, who’ve done that, will then face the consequences.”
In fact, NCACC reports show that it has approved some exports to Russia over the past few years, but it is not clear if any of these were loaded on to Lady R. DM