of South Africa army chief visits Moscow amid US weapons claim
The commander of South Africa’s ground forces has visited Moscow for talks with Russian counterparts just days after Washington accused the African nation of secretly providing arms to Russia.
The South African National Defence Force (Sandf) said on Monday that the meeting was “planned well in advance” as part of “a long-standing arrangement” and was a “goodwill visit” at the invitation of the Russian army.
In a statement, Sandf said it “confirms that the Chief of the SA Army, Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha, is in Moscow for a bilateral between the two military establishments”.
“It must be noted that South Africa has Military to Military bilateral relations with various countries in the continent and beyond,” it said. “The Sandf receives numerous military delegations into the country and sends its own delegations to other countries to discuss matters of mutual interest.”
Russian news agencies reported earlier on Monday that Mbatha was heading a delegation that discussed “issues relating to military cooperation and interaction”.
Mbatha had “visited educational institutions of the ground forces and enterprises of the military-industrial complex” of Russia, the agencies said.
“Agreements were reached to further increase cooperation between ground forces in various fields,” Russian news agency Interfax said.
Last week, United States (US) Ambassador to Pretoria Reuben Brigety said that the US believed weapons and ammunition had been loaded onto a Russian freighter that docked at a Cape Town naval base in December.
Brigety said he was confident that a Russian ship under US sanctions took on board weapons from the Simon’s Town base in December, suggesting the transfer was not in line with Pretoria’s stance of neutrality in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
South African officials swiftly rejected claims made by the US ambassador, who also said senior US officials had “profound concerns” over South Africa’s professed policy of non-alignment and neutrality over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated on Monday that his country would not be drawn “into a contest between global powers” over Ukraine despite having faced “extraordinary pressure” to pick sides.