US ambassador accuses South Africa of arming Russia

Briefly: The US ambassador to South Africa has said he’s “confident” the country has sold weapons and ammunition to Russia, despite its pledged neutrality. The arms were allegedly loaded onto a sanctioned Russian ship in December.

Curiously, South African officials claim the ambassador has since apologised for his remarks, while the ambassador says he only corrected “misimpressions”.

And interestingly, South Africa says it never “approved”, nor has “any record of”, an arms sale to Russia. We don’t want to get all Ally McBeal on you here, but that’s not quite the same as saying the sale never happened.

Intrigue’s take: In the end, this might be one of those situations where the truth lands somewhere in the middle: e.g., perhaps an unauthorised arms sale occurred without Pretoria’s knowledge, such as via a rogue element of the military.

In the meantime, both sides agree on one thing: a sanctioned Russian ship was docked at a South African military port in December. And a retired judge is now leading South Africa’s investigation into what exactly it was doing there.

Also worth noting:

  • After the allegations surfaced, South Africa’s president spoke with the presidents of both Russia and Ukraine.
  • An arms sale to Russia would likely breach South Africa’s own Arms Control Act, which bans arms sales to “states engaged in… aggression”.
  • The South African Rand plunged to a record low against the dollar after the US ambassador made the allegations.