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SA army chief visits Moscow for talks about military cooperation

SA army chief visits Moscow for talks about military cooperation
Russian Ground Forces Commander-in-Chief, General Oleg Salyukov arrives at a war heroes memorial during a ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 03 February 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Chamila Karunarathne) | Head of the SA army, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha. (Photo: Supplied)

Amid a crisis in relations with the US over South Africa’s growing relations with Russia, head of the SA army Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha is visiting Moscow for talks on ‘improving combat readiness’, according to Russia’s defence ministry, citing TASS, the state-run news agency.

Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha is meeting, among others, his Russian counterpart Colonel-General Oleg Salyukov. The timing, if not the mission of Mbatha’s visit, seems likely to blow another hole in Pretoria’s claim to be non-aligned in the stand-off between Russia and the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two military chiefs discussed “issues relating to military cooperation and interaction aimed at the implementation of projects aimed at improving the combat readiness of the armed forces of both countries,” TASS quoted Russia’s Defence Ministry as saying.

The Russians appeared to be maximising the strategic character of the visit, possibly to embarrass the US and the West. The SANDF, by contrast, tried to play down the significance – and the timing – of what it called a “goodwill” visit, saying it was a “long standing arrangement… planned well in advance.”

It said Mbatha would visit the “higher combined Army Academy and the Artillery Military Academy” and would have staff talks with military officials. “It must be noted that South Africa has Military to Military bilateral relations with various countries in the continent and beyond,” the SANDF said.

Lady R uproar

The visit comes just days after a major diplomatic row erupted between South Africa and the US when US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety, told journalists he was confident South Africa had loaded weapons and ammunition bound for Russia on to a US-sanctioned Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, in Simon’s Town naval base in December 2022. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi has just returned from a mission to Washington to try to persuade the US that SA remains non-aligned on the war in Ukraine, and to try to pre-empt possible economic sanctions by the US.

DA defence spokesperson Kobus Marais said Mbatha’s mission to Moscow “once again demonstrates the ANC government’s callousness and insensitivity to our diplomatic and trade dilemma. This unsolicited visit is the latest incident in a string where the South African government clearly and unashamedly demonstrates its support for Russia.

“Even after the collapse of the rand and the call from the United States to honour relationships they still went ahead and conducted this visit. It is shameful,” he said in a statement.

Marais called on Defence Minister Thandi Modise “to address South Africans and explain to the country what exactly the purpose of this visit – paid by the taxpayer – is?”

Marais added that in his weekly newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa had once again asserted that South Africa was “non-aligned” in the Ukraine conflict.

“Yet again, he has lied to South Africa and the world,” Marais said. “I am quite sure that had the Russian media not reported on this visit, it would have been hidden from the South African public. Like so many other events and instances where the ANC government had tried to hide and obfuscate their own embarrassing and disgusting conduct.”

Mbatha’s visit – poorly timed to say the least – seems likely to put Pretoria on the back foot again in its spat with the US over Brigety’s remarks about the alleged loading of weapons for Russia on to the Lady R. It was only after he went public with these allegations that Ramaphosa announced that he would appoint a retired judge to investigate the allegations.

Arms sales to Russia

The government has insisted that it did not authorise any arms sales to Russia, meaning that the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) had not approved any exports. This appeared to leave open the possibility that arms might have been loaded on to the Lady R in a rogue operation.

However, the records of the NCACC do in fact indicate that some exports of arms to Russia have been approved by the NCACC.

Replying to questions in Parliament from DA leader John Steenhuisen in November last year, Mondli Gungubele, the minister in the presidency who also chairs the NCACC said:

“The National Conventional Arms Control Committee has not received any request from any South African arms manufacturers for permission to export to the Russian Federation and/or Belarus arms, munitions, propellants and/or technology that may be used in the manufacture of the specified products since 24 February 2022.”

But then he noted that the records of the NCACC over the past five years reflected that the committee had approved three consignments of “airborne observation” equipment to Russia in 2018, worth a total of R6,690,000. And in July 2019 the NCACC approved the sale to Russia of “Argos Observation” equipment valued at R59,178,602.

This appears to refer to the Argos-II Airborne Observation System manufactured by the South African company Hensoldt which says it is designed for installation on helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles to provide surveillance and targeting capabilities for military, border and maritime patrol and law enforcement missions.

Although this authorisation for the Argos system was granted over three years before the Lady R docked in Simon’s Town, it is theoretically possible that it might still have been used as the approval for uploading military equipment on to the Russian ship. Modise told journalists in December that the cargo offloaded from Russian ship Lady R in Simons Town was an “an old, outstanding order for ammunition used by the Special Forces”.

Background to the Lady R in SA


Modise declined to elaborate, saying she was “waiting for the paperwork.” But it appears she was referring to two NCACC authorisations for imports of ammunition from Russia; one for five million rounds of ammunition costing R11,685,807, cited in the 2019 NCACC report and another for 4,500,000 rounds of ammunition costing R9,945,000, cited in the 2020 report.

This means that if, by Modise’s own account, the Lady R was carrying Russian ammunition for SA approved in 2019 and 2020, it could also, in theory, have uploaded the Argos airborne observation equipment, also approved in 2019.

But it is by no means clear that the Argos equipment was in fact loaded on to the Lady R and that does not in any case seem to tally completely with Brigety’s statement that the US has intelligence that “weapons and ammunition” were loaded on to the ship. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    The callous, treacherous, hypocritical and lying anc forever speaks with a forked tongue. They are so intrinsically untrustworthy, stupid and dishonest that it beggars belief. We are so openly, moronically and subserviently aligned with the evil and monstrous Putin’s Russia that only a complete and utter idiot would believe all our false and spurious statements to the contrary. We are anything but non-aligned! We keep ignoring and belittling all concerns expressed – our finance minister confirmed that the US already raised the Lady R issue in February. Yet we are dishonest to the core and give all the run around. Another useless enquiry that takes forever and is then swept under the carpet. Keep on poking the bear, Cyril, and this country will pay a very heavy price. You and your putrid party should be hung for high treason.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Spot on. It beggars belief that the ANC thinks it can lie through it’s teeth on the global stage and get away with it, just because it’s been doing it for the last 20-odd years in South Africa. Putrid to the core.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    God save us from the pathetic justifications of this visit. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not enough justification for the postponement of a “long standing arrangement… planned well in advance” then what is? Nobody is fooled anymore: the ANC is a criminal and rogue government, dragging SA down into the pits in it’s greedy pursuit of money and power.

    • rmrobinson says:

      Willem, ek wens jy was reg: many are still fooled. In fact, a large portion of blame lies with the continued refusal of the West to hold the ANC to account. On any construction this ‘government’ should be charged before the ICC for crimes against humanity, but far too many in the West are still trapped in romantic notions about this corrupt outfit running South Africa into the ground.

  • Tony Freeman says:

    Is Ramaphosa a Russian Oligarch ?
    Perhaps this is the truth about phala phala and the couch moneybags?

    • Rama Chandra says:

      So the ANC is supportive of friends committing genocide against small countries? Animal Farm comes to mind. I urge the US to impose sanctions. What the ANC needs to learn is that actions have consequences. Ramaphosa, with his genial manner, is actually in bed with gangsters, dictators and the monsters of the world, and by choice. It is time there are consequences and he is forced to take off his mask and show who he is.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        I’d like the ANC to suffer as well, but withdrawing AGOA benefits and crushing our automotive sector doesn’t harm the ANC in the slightest, given they all drive fully imported cars, giving the middle finger to our workers in the process. Targeted sanctions against the ANC would work better, if it comes to that. But given that the US counts amongst it’s own allies brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia and the world’s money launderer, the UAE, I hardly think they’re on rock solid moral ground either. It’s a hopeless mess, with the ANC being completely out of its depth, as usual, on the international stage.

    • Rama Chandra says:

      I mean Russia got Trump into power in the US. How much easier would it have been to get Ramaphosa in, in South Africa?

    • rmrobinson says:

      No, he is an African oligarch.

  • Rob vZ says:

    The SA military has gone completely rogue. It’s time to for the US to shut this Russian-proxy down.

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Just when you think that it can’t get more absurd, these buffoons have absolutely no idea of how to conduct themselves. The obtuseness and stupidity are beyond belief.

    Their puerile justifications for their moronic actions are indicative of their distorted view of reality and the world at large.

    Not a shred of integrity or morality, completely blinded by their personal greed & corrupt agendas.
    Puitn’s gimps; their Neo-colonial master.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    All of this points to only one thing: Russia knows about a lot of skeletons in the ANC cupboard.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    What possible lessons could South Africa learn from Russia about combat readiness? From Russia, of all useless militaries? Even their so-called mercenary elite in Wagner proved to have feet of clay when they lasted two weeks and a couple of beheadings in Cabo Delgado.

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    The ANC dont even hide anymore ” the tide has gone out and they have been caught swiming naked”

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    On 15 August 2022 Thandi Modise arrives in Moscow to attend a conference on “national security. In September that same year a delegation of the ANCYL observing the ‘referendum’ in Ukraine. In December 2022 the Lady R Russian vessel docks in Simons Town and loads/off loads under cover of darkness. January 2023 Russian FM Sergei Lavrov visits Pretoria. February 2023 joint naval exercises with China and Russia on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Early in May a Russian aircraft lands at Waterkloof Air Base, a national key-point to deliver ‘diplomatic mail”. Now SA’s top military general on a visit to Moscow. Join the dots…
    But here’s proof that the ANC is not only cozying up to Russia: They are avid supporters of the West: Major buyers of Bentleys, Mercedes, BMW, Audis, Jaguars, Land Rovers and even a few Jeeps. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Rolex, Nike, Convex and every other fashion brand, expanding market share amongst Cadres. With preference for the US dollar or Swiss Franc in favor of Rubbles. Not to mention Rap music and other idols and fashion products that are most favored by the ANC.
    Surely mother Russia must frown of such support for the West from their foster children of the struggle?

  • Gary Wright says:

    The anc desperately needs Russia’s help to influence/steal next year’s election. Nothing is more important to them right now.

    • rmrobinson says:

      Well, is that really all there is to it? If, as one or two reputable sources and writers have suggested over the years, the Russian ruling regime is horribly corrupt, it is not inconceivable that they may wish to … convince the ruling members in the ANC towards things such as selling them nuclear power stations. After all, why should the Russians fail where the Guptas succeeded magnificently? So, the immediate benefit for these ruling members in the ANC is evident. Whatever the outcome of the next election (and whatever that outcome, the ANC will be at the feeding trough, possibly with the EFF with them), there are bank accounts waiting to be supplemented.

  • Charles R says:

    Russia should stop the service of the Wagner group for their military operations and war on Ukraine. The must get a more specialised task force. Any ANC municipal run work force will decimate Ukraines towns and cities in a matter of months.

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