South Africa

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

‘You cannot remain neutral’ — Russian ambassador tells ANC Russian-Ukraine dialogue delegates

‘You cannot remain neutral’ — Russian ambassador tells ANC Russian-Ukraine dialogue delegates
Russian Ambassador to South Africa Ilya Rogachev. (Photo: Gallo Images / Christiaan Kotze)

The Russian ambassador to South Africa, Ilya Igorevich Rogachev, has sent out a clear message about South Africa’s non-aligned stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

After months of Russia stating that it would not force any nations to support it in its decision to invade Ukraine, the Russian ambassador to South Africa, Ilya Igorevich Rogachev, has changed that tune by saying that there is “no place for neutrality in the modern world”.

Rogachev was speaking at Wednesday’s ANC Russian-Ukraine dialogue with diplomats in Johannesburg. The ambassadors of Ukraine and China were among those invited but were unable to attend.

Rogachev repeated the Russian mantra that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a means of defence to ensure that Nato does not continue its advancement in Europe. 

“You cannot remain neutral, you will be punished by secondary sanctions … this is the logic they [the West] will not allow. [You cannot] remain distant and neutral,” Rogachev said.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: I bet Putin won’t risk visiting South Africa because our democracy is just too unpredictable 

The former chairperson of the ANC’s International Relations subcommittee, Lindiwe Zulu. (Photo: OJ Koloti / Gallo Images) | Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Photo: Andressa Anholete / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Responding, the former chairperson of the ANC’s International Relations subcommittee, Lindiwe Zulu, explained that South Africa cannot adopt a concept that has not been endorsed by the governing party. 

South Africa’s head of diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, said that South Africa’s stance cannot be defined as neutrality. He said Pretoria’s stance would be vindicated because in any conflict the most powerful position is the call for peace. He gave assurances that South Africa would not face any sanctions.

“If we had taken a side it would’ve been difficult to convince the two capitals [of Ukraine and Russia] to accept us [the African Peace Mission] … Non-alignment should never be confused with neutrality … we made a very deliberate decision based on our history,” he explained.

Norway’s ambassador to South Africa, Gjermund Saether, used the opportunity to back Ukraine. 

He said Norway would continue providing humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine in the name of ensuring its sovereignty and empowering democracy. 

“The problem for Russia is not really Nato, but the problem is democracy. They don’t have democracy because they do not allow for it. They also want to prevent other countries in the neighbourhood from democracy.” 

In 2022, Norway provided support valued at around 10.7 billion kroner (R18.55-billion) to Ukraine and other countries affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Norway and Denmark have agreed to donate an additional 9,000 rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, while equipment amounting to £92-million will be procured through the International Fund for Ukraine to bolster Ukraine’s ability to protect its critical national infrastructure, civilian population, and frontline personnel. 

Norway contributes instructors to the basic training of Ukrainian soldiers through Operation Interflex in the United Kingdom, an effort which  started in 2022.

While Pretoria maintains it is non-aligned in the conflict, it is perceived by the West as being pro-Russia, which has compromised South Africa’s standing with the US. 

This idea has been exacerbated by allegations made by the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, that South Africa provided weapons to Russia. He also bemoaned the contents of ANC policy documents on the Russia-Ukraine war. He said the document portrayed the US in a negative light.

The ANC resolution notes that the US appears to be implementing the Wolfowitz Doctrine, named after a former US deputy Secretary of State who felt the US should not allow any country in the world to have the possibility, in the post-Cold War period, to challenge its interests, especially its hegemony. DM

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  • Johan Buys says:

    “war in Europe”? I thought it was just a special military intervention in a russian province!

    “war in Europe”? Russia would not, without nuclear, survive two weeks of conventional war with just Germany, never mind war with Europe, not to mention the rest of Nato! The entire thing is basically like a grade 7 diknek bullying a grade 5 kid in the name of his objection to the grade 12 kids’ dominance at school. Except this grade 5 kid is a tough little one.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      One should be careful about underestimating Russia after their shambolic performance in the Ukraine war. In this “rebel attempt” of Prigoshin information came out that may well allow one to get to a completely different explanation from those we accepted until now. At the beginning of the war Russia had about 200000 soldiers that they relied on for the job. I think they later on recruited (or commanded) 200000 more; of which about 100000 appears to have died in the war in the meantime. But it has now come out that one of the safeguards that Putin has to keep himself safe is that what he calls the “national guard” of Russia, namely 375000 elite soldiers, are kept in Moscow, for that purpose. That is why the analysts are so sure that, had Prigoshin really attempted to overthrow the Russian government with his 50000 mercenaries, they did not stand a chance; because the bulk of the Russian military might are kept in Moscow to defend Putin! So had Prigoshin wanted to seize the bulk of Russia outside of Moscow, he could have succeeded in that, at least for a while; while, had Russia implemented this elite force in the Ukraine war, it would have been much different. Of course it is also true that Russia does not really have too modern weapons, and it spends only a fraction of what NATO and China spends to maintain all the weapons – about $69 billion against China’s $278 billion, the USA’s $750 billion and the rest of NATO probably in the vicinity of another $250 billion.

      • Johan Buys says:

        Hmmm, I cannot imagine that Putin secretly has a well equipped, cleverly managed strategic force that he did not deploy when it became abundantly clear that his Ukraine deployment is a poorly trained, badly equipped, terribly managed laughing stock.

        Remember that Ukraine could not use air superiority or attack targets anywhere inside Russia, something Germany would not be constrained by if it were attacked. Before this war, several analysts said that Russian military might is a myth and it poses no threat other than as nuclear threat.

        Putin invaded under the pretense of stopping Nato expansion. It has managed to more than double its direct neighboring Nato border, with more to come. Expect Singapore and non “western” countries to also join Nato. Strategic blunder, checkmate in chess.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    The stance I would suggest is a nice friendly squat.

  • Charl Marais says:

    How can anyone be neutral in light of the atrocities that the russian state is perpetrating in Ukraine?

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      You remained neutral while the US and Nato commit crimes in Iraq and Afgahnistan and continue to illegally occupy Hawaii, parts of Cuba, etc?

      • Henry Coppens says:

        Funny, the Hawiians have always voted to be part of USA, so how can that be ‘illegal’?
        “On June 27, 1959, a referendum asked residents of Hawaiʻi to vote on the statehood (i.e. US) bill; 94.3% voted in favor of statehood and 5.7% opposed it.[141]” Wikipedia.

        • rocheburgers says:

          Surely you don’t expect ozinsky to comprehend something like a referendum? That would be like expecting putin to comprehend democracy.

          • Johann Olivier says:

            Correct. Ozinsky is what is loosely termed ‘a troll’. (Not that he is entirely wrong about Iraq & Afghanistan, but I’m glad he’s put Putin’s crimes in the right perspective. Yes, the US was out of line, but let’s not forget why they attacked Afghanistan. They harboured the 9/11 terrorists, then refused to hand them over. Iraq’s invasion was a crime, but not against a democracy, against a brutal dictator – kind of like Putin.)

      • Helen Swingler says:

        Many of us looked on in horror at what was going on in Iran and Afghanistan – and still do in terms of the harms and human rights abuses these regimes inflict on their people. The past cannot anaesthetise us in the present. The present demands we take a moral stand: international politics be damned when human lives are being destroyed – 0n any side of a conflict.

      • Oliver Laubenheimer says:

        perhaps you (ozinsky) should read “A letter from Branko Brkic, Daily Maverick Editor-in-Chief” where all of these notions defending russian atrocities are refuted, including the notion of perceived neutrality on other undesirable, past war actions. 2 wrongs dont make a right and there are plenty in this world who agree that Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Cambodia amongst others were wrong. It does not excuse the war against the Ukraine and certainly does not make it right. SA’s so called neutrality is absurd considering that the Ukraine was part of the so called liberation struggle support of the erstwhile USSR, as was Sweden (arguably to a much larger degree than the USSR) and they are 100% against Russia and now joining NATO after hundreds of years of neutrality. Russia has effectively doubled its NATO borders through its action and the irony is that Ukraine is not even a NATO country.

    • Vincent L says:

      True. But somehow the ANC still wants to remain subservient to a colonialist.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    The economic success of Ukraine under democracy is an inconvenient truth for Putin, hence his desire to crush them lest his countrymen rebel.
    There is no record of aggressive behaviour by NATO. Putin’s justification for his invasion is patently absurd.

  • Peter Doble says:

    South Africa is disgraced in the eyes of the democratic, free thinking world. The ANC’s stance has doomed the country to pariah status. It can only end in tears.

    • Henry Coppens says:

      Exactly. The basic premise is that you don’t jump the fence and kill your neighbour however much you hate what he is doping.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      Oh I think that the stance of the Ramaphosa government is being completely underestimated. It is true what Pandor says about their stance not being easy; after all nothing in international politics is easy because we have to safeguard our long- as well as short term interests; but I have closely followed our stances in the UN and it is completely in line with what Pandor says. Especially in June, when we abstained from voting, our official remark was that we wanted to support the motion that Russia must be held to account for what they are doing in Ukraine but that we wanted the motion to also create a precedent for future occurances by other superpowers such as what the USA did in Iraq in 2003; after all the current international political instability started there. But the initiators of the motion did not want to budge; it is as Pandor says, that they did not care about future events, which tends to show a bias. That is also why I believe an alternative to the UN-SC must be set up which reflects the current reality in terms of international military and economic power; the reason why it has to reflect that is because in international politics it is not morality or even democratic values that count; it is only power. The reason for the instability is because the western world is wrongly trying to ignore the power that China yields nowadays, and it is a huge mistake. India and Japan are also substantial players, both economic-wise and militarily.

    • Dragon Slayer says:

      South Africa … democracy😕its version is ‘government for itself at the expense of the people’

  • Dr Know says:

    I am confused by ‘Non-alignment should never be confused with neutrality’. I honestly cannot tell the difference. You either support one of them or you dont support any of them. Can it be that we support both of them but in different measures? What a load of blah blah blah. Just pick a side and hang on.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      You need to learn more about diplomacy and politics. The non-aligned movement was formed in the 1950s and was never neutral. Countries have their own interests and history shows that those in the global South suffer if they align with their former colonial rulers.

      • Donald Moore says:

        It is very broad to say that “history shows that those in the global South suffer if they align with their former colonial rulers.” I am not an historian and I suspect neither is oxinsky an historian. I am not a propagandist but I suspect ozinsky is much more propagandist then historian. Please name the countries that have suffered by aligning with their former colonial rulers.

      • Paddy Ross says:

        ?Austalia. ?New Zealand.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        If non-aligned is not neutral, it means that the ANC is backing Russia – which they strenuously deny (despite all the evidence to the contrary). The ANC simply doesn’t have the guts to come out and say it, because they still need to keep the begging bowl polished to shove under the noses of the developed world (as opposed to Russia) for bailouts when they screw things up. And by backing Russia, with Lootin’ Putin now saying that the Wagner Group was always paid for by the state, they’ve effectively given the green light to the genocide being waged in CAR, where up to 280,000 people (out of 5.2m) were slaughtered last year, largely on ethno-religious lines, by Wagner and their trained militias. And all to the pay the bills at Luthuli House. But then, I suppose in the words of Nomvula Mokonyane, they’re just dirty voters who the ANC doesn’t want anyway.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      No, Dr Know, there is a very clear difference. To be neutral is to stay out of all the controversial matters and mind your own business. It can be successful, as Botswana showed; they only focused on their own development and built themselves up to a situation where they have more wealth than SA. But non-alignment is a reference to the non-alignment movement of countries (which, if I am not mistaken, count about 140), all of which share an anti-colonialist stance, and all of which are trying to safeguard themselves from imperialist, colonialist or otherwise dominating actions of superpowers. So all of them would naturally want to assert the principle of the integrity of the borders of sovereign nations for instance, and they would want the international authoritative bodies to direct the superpowers to do that, as Ramaphosa also made the case towards Putin. Also to oppose any aggression of any country towards others mean that one is taking sides; in the case of Africa and SA it is taking a side against war. Most of the non-aligned countries are according to me also strong supporters (and users!) of the International Criminal Court, unless they are on the receiving end of the cases. Now if you are neutral, you stay out of it altogether, in order to not antagonize bigger powers, which is not really the case with us.

  • James Francis says:

    Typical Russian double talk. What a despicable and dishonest regime. Why we support them only the ANC’s accountants will know (and presumably paid with captured money from CAR and wherever else Russia has ruthlessly stolen African resources).

    What ubuntu? No, the ANC welcomes Russian colonisers.

  • Hester Dobat says:

    The tug-of-war between democrasy and its defenders and socialist (communist? Bastardisation) defenders, will hopefully be settled around a table and not the battlefield. But that is wishful thinking. As long as there are irrational, power-hungry and ruthless individuals seeking the wealth of other countries, it will not be settled around a table. Is it really about seeking a peaceful co-existance on earth? – or just petty tit-for-tat warfare. The situation between Ukrain and Russia is a reflection of the turmoil that simmers in the world today. Infiltration, sabotage, mass genocide, rape, corrupt deals under the table and sophisticated propaganda machinery, innocent people worth no more than canon fodder, are all fair game in this fight for world dominance. And Africa and South Africa is ripe for the picking. Easy formula. Install despotic or corrupt leaders in power, keep the voters ignorant and uneducated and soon the Goverments become the puppets of one or the other doctrine. Living on borrowed money, beholden to a ruthless master. But never the humble and respected individual who is a true leader of his country.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Miles – you are 100% right. I might also add that the evil Putin and his diabolical regime greatly fear that a prosperous, free and democratic Ukraine will infect the highly-abused and long-suffering Russian population with demand for the same, which is a huge anathema and massive threat. No longer will Putin and the elite i.e. oligarchs, be able to steal the country blind for their own nefarious and wicked ends. Present day Russia under the diabolical Putin is nothing but an evil criminal syndicate – a ruthless, bestial strongman bully/dictator who jails, poisons, murders opponents as if it is normal behaviour.

    • Glenne Meldrum says:

      Oh how ironically myopic. What about cyanide in de Ruiter’s coffee; Babita Deokaran; political assassinations rife in KZN; Glebelands hostel stocked with hitmen; before that, Chris Hani; before that flying lessons from the top floors of John Vorster Square; etc etc etc? That’s us. No, it doesn’t matter who has the power, politicians, governments, the east, the west, the wealthy, big industry, the patriarchy, the privileged – they will stoop to any means necessary to preserve their power. Including the propaganda to fool us that is moral when WE do it to THEM. An earlier comment talked about the ‘democratic, free thinking world.’ I think such a thing is extremely rare

    • Hilary Morris says:

      Sounds just like home

  • bushtrack says:

    The words non-aligned (or neutral) to the AU and rest of the world will definitely not be used or clamoured for by Pretoria in the HYPOTHETICAL situation when Zimbabwe attack and invade SA on the premises that during the Rhodes era the then Rhodesia was deemed to be part of SA as territories of the British Empire. Let Pretoria place itself in the position of Ukraine which did not provoke the invasion and then comment from this position.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The problem with the ANC regime it does not have a national security strategy that ought to inform the foreign policy of the country. What we have is the ANC foreign policy that is not the South African foreign policy. You build consensus on the foreign policy that is informed by the national economic and security interests not by ANC sentimental attachments and relations with the despotic and kleptocratic regime of a thug like Putin. The capitalist and homophobic regime of Putin violated the UN Charter and international law on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine as a member state of the United Nations. We cannot be neutral to the principles of the United Nations that we signed upon and the drivel from the ANC and Mbeki does not wash. We were not neutral on Iraq war waged under the false pretext and lies by the US of non existent weapons of mass destruction and Mbeki is speaking on both sides of his mouth. The nonsense of the security interests of Russia that Mbeki and Kasrils talk about are pure nonsense because the Budapest Agreements and the various iterations of the Minsk Agreements deal with these issues including the issues that thug called Putin raised in the Munich Security Conference in 2008. The political jay walking by Ramaphosa in Ukraine and Russia was wasteful expenditure. Russia must be polished out of Ukraine and they must be made to pay for the reparations. Russia has a rag tag military with criminals and nuclear weapons and nothing more.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Mr Ambassador – the regime that you serve in the form of Putin, Lavrov, Peskov, Medvedev etc and that whole hideous Kremlin cabal are nothing but deranged, mass-murderous, evil and bestial monsters, who have no place on this earth. We don’t need your pontificating, propaganda, lies and misinformation. Do us all a huge favour and go back to that snake pit that Russia has become the under the vile Putin regime. Freedom, human rights and democracy will trump in the end, no matter what. It always does. I and many many South Africans have nothing but utter disgust, revulsion and contempt for your diabolical regime. You all deserve to burn in Hell for the terror, destruction, torture, rape, mass killings, pain and suffering that you have unleashed. Your hands are dripping in blood of innocent men, women and children! SLAVA UKRAINA and GOD bless UKRAINE!!

  • Pieter van Dam says:

    What role do the ANCs assets in the CAR which is now controlled by Wagner (Russia) play in their stance?

  • Donald bemax says:

    I wish that Putin attends the BRICS here so that they can overthrow the current Government in his absence and go the way all despots go..

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Is it not possible to call for peace by asking the invader to get the hell out?

  • Rama Chandra says:

    It seems to me the ANC is selectively pro-imperialism, providing the victims are white. That is a very strange position to take , given historically they were pro-IRA for example, against British sovereignty. Perhaps the position is best described as anti-Anglo-Saxon.

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    I believe the correct response to this is to ask the ambassador when Russia will apologise unconditionally for using what is in practise it’s omnipotence as a permanent member of the UN security council to veto Anti-Apartheid resolutions and international actions aimed at fighting Apartheid. You know, because perspective.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Agree ambassador. most of SA is on Ukraine’s side so suggest your president stays at home!

  • mike van wyk says:

    South Africa’s leadership hopefully have seen enough to make a clear minded decision: does SA stand with Russia; a failed state; a state guilty of unspeakable atrocities around the world; a state that through its own political deeds isolated itself ideologically, geopolitically and economically. Russian ambassador Ilya Rogachev’s statement smacks of desperation. There’s nothing positive that can come out of SA’s now lowering relationship with Russia. Ramaphosa’s ‘mediation’ attempt with Russia ended up not being so neutral and non-partisan after all. As Ramaphosa made it clear to Russia, that the ramifications of the war was causing pain in Africa. It was clear that the African Union Member state representatives were not at all happy with Putin’s wrecking ball attitude. As that wrecking ball extends to political meddling throughout Africa. I trust that SA leadership will have the courage and political backbone to send Ambassador Ilya Rogachev a clear message to get packing and that outright challenges to African leadership on their position will not be tolerated. Stable trade, strong economic growth and political stability depends more on relationships westwards than with that of Russia. China the largest BRICS member will not back Russia dispite rhetoric to the contrary, as China’s future is linked to the west not Russia. There’s no logic in the AU continuing symbolically backing Russia.

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