South African Army Boss Visits Russia Amid Weapons Spat with U.S.

Amid a crisis in relations with the United States 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.

The Daily Maverick's Peter Fabricius writes that 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, Fabricius writes.

South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with one another late on Friday May 12, 2023 about what Blinken described as "the vital U.S.-South Africa relationship."

Blinken's call to Pandor was made after South Africa summoned the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, in a diplomatic démarche to protest his remarks on Thursday that the U.S. was "confident" that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R at the South African naval base in Simon's Town in December 2022.

On Saturday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed "disappointment" with Brigety's "undiplomatic" handling of the matter. Earlier, the Presidency said the remarks had undermined "the spirit of cooperation and partnership that characterised the recent engagements between U.S. government officials and a South African official delegation led by National Security Special Advisor to the President, Dr Sydney Mufumadi".

The Presidency said it was public knowledge that a Russian vessel known as Lady R had docked in Simon's Town. "Allegations have since been made about the purpose of the voyage. While no evidence has been provided to date to support these allegations, the Government has undertaken to institute an independent enquiry to be led by a retired judge," the statement said.


Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at the first plenary session of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, 24 October 2019.

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