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South Africa’s connection with Putin’s Russia – Your burning questions answered

South Africa’s connection with Putin’s Russia – Your burning questions answered
From left: President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Vladimir Smirnov / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool

Readers have had many questions about South Africa’s relationship with Russia and we’ve tried to answer them. We appreciate these not only because they help to sculpt our coverage, but because you take the time to send them and we can co-create a Daily Maverick you co-own.

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You had many questions about South Africa’s relationship with Russia and we’ve tried to answer them. We appreciate these not only because they help to sculpt our coverage, but because you take the time to send them and we can co-create a Daily Maverick you co-own.

This month, Suné Payne tests the hotlines you asked us to. We will keep dialling for you so share your experience with us here.

Unravelling South Africa’s relationship with Russia: Your burning questions answered

Why is South Africa aligning with Russia? What can it gain?

South Africa is aligning with Russia for historical and ideological reasons (noting, of course, that officially South Africa insists that it is non-aligned in the war). The former USSR (which, incidentally, included Russia and Ukraine) supported the ANC in the struggle against apartheid and today Russia and South Africa are both part of the BRICS group of countries.While Russia is now an oligarchy, many in the ANC still retain nostalgic solidarity with the country. Importantly, in addition, the ANC is funded by a company that has Russian links. See Rebecca Davis’s report here.

What is the historical relationship between South Africa and Russia? [There were several questions about how the USSR helped the ANC]

SA History Online is the best source of free material on the true nature of the historical relationship between the ANC and Russia, which influences South Africa’s relationship with Russia. Have a read here.

What will happen if Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in South Africa in August. Will he be arrested? 

As a signatory to the Rome Statute, you would assume that he would be arrested as Putin faces a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court. But as Peter Fabricius has written here, South Africa is reconsidering its position. Weekend reports suggested it is seeking to have the August summit moved to another country to head off the stand-off.

Can South Africa pull out of the International Criminal Court (it is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty establishing the ICC)?

Yes, it can, but the governing ANC decided at its December 2022 conference not to do so. The party’s international relations package of resolutions from December 2022 is worth reading.

Is it safe for a South African to visit Russia (Moscow, Sochi or St Petersburg)?

You may want to put off the trip for a while.

Many countries helped remove apartheid. Why is the ANC (government) pretending that only Russia helped them ahead of Sweden (and the rest of Scandinavia), the Frontline States (southern African post-colonial government) and everybody else? 

It may seem that way now, but South Africa always acknowledges the support of the Scandinavian countries, especially post-colonial African countries, in the country’s liberation.  

Didn’t the encroachment of Nato on the Russian (sphere of interest) have anything to do with the war on Ukraine?

This lecture by Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago offers some ideas about Nato expansionism.

Will increasing economic and military relations with Russia benefit the ANC (government) or Russia more?

Economic and military relations with Russia are not a great benefit to South Africa, as the SA Reserve Bank has shown in its latest Financial Stability Review. Read Ed Stoddard here and for the long version, here’s a link to the review. It’s a must-read.

The BRICS grouping is a different kettle of fish. Read Peter Fabricius on all the countries that want to join the group.

Does South Africa have any understanding of when a war is a just war? In South Africa’s understanding, does the invasion of Ukraine count as a just war? 

We are still trying to get an answer from Clayson Monyela, the head of public diplomacy, on this.

Can you explain why Minister Pandor believes it would be ‘simplistic and infantile’ to call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine?

Here is a statement from Minister Pandor in April 2022 that is worth reading.

Doesn’t realpolitik mean South Africa should consider its own interests like the value of trade through Agoa with the US? 


Does the funding of the ANC via Russian/South African business interests, as revealed by reports on the Political Party Funding Act, influence South Africa’s geopolitical policy on Russia? 

See Rebecca Davis here on what political party funding reports from the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) tell us.

What was on the Lady R, the Russian-sanctioned ship which docked in Simon’s Town in December 2022 and offloaded who knows what? 

Our colleagues Tori O’Regan and Rebecca Davis have the lowdown here and here. Hennie van Vuuren wrote here about why we should not accept that the investigation into the Lady R’s cargo will be held behind closed doors.

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