Pretoria scrambles to repair relations with Russia after…

South Africa has rushed to restore relations with Russia after International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issued an unusually strong statement calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was reported by the Sunday time to be unhappy with the statement because he felt it contradicted South African policy.

A day after the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) statement – ​​apparently authorized by Pandor – calling on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ramaphosa appeared to blame US President Joe Biden instead. for the invasion. He suggested that if Biden had agreed to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin unconditionally days before Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, it would have been avoided.

He was apparently referring to Biden’s February 21 statement that he would only meet Putin if the Russian president agreed in advance not to invade Ukraine.

the Sunday time cited unnamed sources in Union Buildings saying Ramaphosa understood the history of the conflict. This seemed to suggest that Ramaphosa shared the view that Putin was driven to invade by broken Western promises in the 1990s not to extend NATO membership to Russia’s borders. In the run-up to the invasion, Putin demanded that NATO guarantee that he would never allow Ukraine to join the intergovernmental military alliance, but NATO did not provide that guarantee.

South Africa and Russia are both members of the BRICS bloc, which also includes Brazil, India and China, and which sees itself as a counterweight to what it sees as Western dominance of the order security world. Other BRICS members refrained from criticizing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa indirectly intervened to reassure Russia that South Africa was on its side. Acting Ramaphosa spokesman Tyrone Seale said Daily Maverick that Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele had resolved the issue when asked about it during a Cabinet Security Group briefing on Sunday.

Gungubele said the government’s position was that it was up to the parties to the conflict to mediate and negotiate.

“Beyond that, it is this country’s position that we will always prefer peaceful solutions,” Gungubele said.

“We will always be opposed to any conflict resulting in the loss of life. We’re not prepared to say anything beyond that,” he added, apparently trying to retrospectively delete Pandor’s remarks.

The ANC took a similar position, saying the conflict should be resolved through negotiations between the two warring parties. Beyond that, Luthuli House’s statement was rather confusing, not really clarifying its position on the conflict, although appearing to lean towards Russia.

Defense Minister Thandi Modise was likely acting more in line with Ramaphosa’s views when she reportedly marked Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland Day during a reception at Russian Ambassador Ilya Rogachev’s residence in Pretoria on Thursday. evening, just hours after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine and Russian missiles rained down. on Ukrainian cities.

Diplomats circulated a photo of Modise alongside Rogachev at the event, which specifically honors the Russian military. Western diplomatic sources and a Russian source confirmed that the event took place on Thursday evening.

Defense Minister Thandi Modise (second from left) with Russian Ambassador to South Africa Ilya Rogachev (far left) at his residence on Thursday evening February 24, 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

However, the SA National Defense Force has neither confirmed nor denied this, despite several attempts to Daily Maverick for comment. Western governments are annoyed by what they see as this callous gesture on the day of the invasion. They are also angered that Ramaphosa blames the invasion on the United States rather than Russia.

“Some of us were very disappointed when the meeting between President Biden and President Putin didn’t happen,” Ramaphosa told reporters outside an event on Friday. “Because if this meeting had gone ahead with no strings attached, I’m sure we would have avoided the calamitous situation that is unfolding now.”

Defender of the Fatherland Day, which Modise would have celebrated with Rogachev on Thursday, dates back to the Bolshevik Revolution and honors Russian military veterans.

Defender of the Fatherland Day is actually February 23, but since it is a public holiday in Russia, the day is usually celebrated on February 24.

Russian sources noted that the reception at Ambassador Rogachev’s residence was held before the invasion of Ukraine.

Modise could have refused to attend the reception after Russian tanks entered Ukraine earlier in the day, but he obviously chose not to. DM