South Africa’s ‘Russian Armsgate’ Signals New Tensions with the U.S.

South Africa’s ‘Russian Armsgate’ Signals New Tensions with the U.S.
U.S. President Joe Biden walks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa outside the West Wing of the White House, in Washington, Sept. 16, 2022 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

New tensions in South Africa’s relationship with the U.S. emerged last week when Reuben Brigety, Washington’s ambassador to Pretoria, accused the country of providing arms to Russia despite Pretoria’s stated nonalignment in the war in Ukraine.

Brigety claimed at a press conference last week that ammunition and arms were secretly loaded onto the Lady R, a U.S.-sanctioned Russian merchant vessel, at a naval base in Simon’s Town, roughly 20 miles outside Cape Town. The allegations immediately drew a rebuke from South African officials, who denied any knowledge of an arms sale to Russia and summoned Brigety to a meeting over his remarks.

After a meeting with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, Brigety tweeted his gratitude for the opportunity to “correct any misimpressions left by his public remarks.” A subsequent statement released by the U.S. State Department tersely said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “underscored the importance of the U.S.-South Africa strategic partnership and reiterated cooperation on shared priorities.”

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