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Why South Africa drifted into the orbit of China and Russia

smallsouth african Like much of the country, the navy is dilapidated. Its fleet spends less than half the time at sea that it did a decade ago. It has few workboats, the result of budget cuts by the ruling African National Congress (anc). So it makes sense that the country would welcome a better fleet that could teach it a thing or two.

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But the February 17-27 Russian and Chinese naval drills were more than just an opportunity for sailors to salute each other.Coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the actions underscore how Russia anc The government, partly by choice, is moving into the Sino-Russian orbit, despite its claimed neutrality in the conflict. Western discontent with South Africa shows that today’s self-proclaimed “non-aligned” middle powers are often engaged in a tricky balancing act.

this anc There has long been a soft spot for Russia. Party stalwarts such as South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, liked to tell Western diplomats how the Soviet Union supported the anti-apartheid struggle. (Ukraine was also once part of the Soviet Union, but never received much thanks.) When Ms. Pandol met Joseph Borrell, European Union The foreign policy chief said in late January that the West could teach South Africa no lessons because it never provided weapons to those fighting for freedom from white rule, according to two people familiar with the matter. For pragmatic reasons, Russia also matters. China is even more so. In 2010 South Africa became Second inside gold brick, a number of large emerging markets. Membership is important for South Africa, by far the smallest economy in the bloc, as it gives it a seat at the negotiating table with powerful nations.

For much of the 21st century, the West has understood South Africa’s desire to do both.Guilt over initial acquiescence to apartheid tempers rich-country criticism of apartheid anc. South Africa is the gateway to the rest of the continent. As long as it is open to trade, investment and tourists from the United States and Europe, anc Got a pass. Western countries remain four of the five main destinations for South African exports. They also account for the majority of foreign direct investment in the country and internationally held South African assets.

But the Ukraine war has drawn attention to South Africa’s apparent nonalignment. It was one of 26 of Africa’s 54 countries that did not condemn the Russian invasion last March. United Nations General Assembly. This irks Western diplomats, but not by surprise.According to the analysis, between 2017 and 2021, South Africa supported only 23% of the US vote each year on average economist. That’s 10 percentage points below the average for all countries — almost as wide a difference as countries like Cuba and Zimbabwe.south africa is in the minority United Nations None of the members condemned Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. Opinion differs: Most South Africans seem to disapprove of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

South Africa abstained in October 2022 on whether to condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, sparking further frustration in the West. A month ago, Cyril Ramaphosa became the first head of state to receive a private visit from Joe Biden to the White House – a sign of US efforts to court South Africa. In a few weeks, Mr Ramaphosa will be the first person on King Charles III’s state visit to the UK.Western diplomats say they consulted South Africans on agreement text United Nations resolution, but in the end Mr Ramaphosa overruled his diplomats and abstained. (His spokesman declined to comment.) The charm offensive doesn’t seem to hold a candle to a real Russian.

rough waters

Mr Ramaphosa benefits from skepticism.he has an interior anc Winning the election in December needs to keep pro-Russian party members happy. But then in November, it was reported that a superyacht owned by a sanctioned Russian businessman was headed to Cape Town (eventually choosing the Maldives).Even more disturbing, later that month, a Russian merchant ship was attacked by us Sanctions for alleged deliveries of supplies have been spotted in South African waters.the ship is called Ms R, turned off the tracking equipment before docking at the naval base in early December. Witnesses reported that the cargo was unloaded under the cover of darkness. Diplomatic sources fear that more supplies could be loaded onto the ship afterward. Defense Secretary Thandi Modise did not provide a full account of the incident, saying only that the ship had brought in an order for ammunition placed before the pandemic. “We are still not satisfied,” said one Western diplomat. (A spokesman for Ms. Modis did not respond to a request for comment.)

Then, in January, Sergei Lavrov came to visit. Ms Pandor joined her Russian counterparts in saying it would be “simple and naive” to call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, given the “massive arms transfers” the West was offering to Kiev.she also said gold brick The bloc should be part of a “redesigned global order” – to keep Russia and China happy.

Now there are naval exercises. South Africa hosted Russia and China in 2019 to reduce protests. It cooperates with Western navies, including France, and regularly welcomes Western politicians. But hosting a Russian ship emblazoned with a pro-war “Z” marks a shift as Vladimir Putin’s troops massacre Ukrainians on the battlefield.

Government actions are drawing attention to connections between individuals anc Politicians and Russia. In 2021, Vice President David Mabuza spent more than a month in Russia for “scheduled medical consultations.”Ms Modis, a rare female guerrilla ancThe armed faction took part in an August security summit in Moscow with defense ministers from 34 other countries during the struggle. Western diplomats have deemed it futile to engage with her.There is an echo, noting that Russia’s modus operandi In more vulnerable African countries, such as Mali and the Central African Republic, Wagnerian mercenary groups are propping up regimes. Russia cannot match the West’s economic importance to South Africa, but it can try to pick out compliant elites, especially those with anti-Western sympathizers.

The West is still figuring out how to respond ancpro-Russian moves.Some officials worry that speaking out or issuing threats will push anc Politicians are further east. In South Africa, diplomats point out, what appears to be a conspiracy is often nonsense.Ministries are isolated; Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not know Ms R. But officials on the ground agree, defending a moderate approach anc Governments are getting harder and harder for their respective capitals.

Some in the West favor a tougher line. US senators privately asked why South Africa should enjoy preferential trade terms with the US as it did through the AGOA when it was de facto supporting a wartime enemy. Some U.S. officials want their law enforcement and intelligence agencies to more closely investigate links between Russia and corrupt South African elites. Western governments are considering whether to warn Mr Ramaphosa of the consequences if he attends a Russia-Africa summit scheduled for later this year.

The tragedy is that South Africa needs all the help it can get. It is not a single sub-Saharan African powerhouse like it was in the 2000s. Nor has it been overlooked that the country is falling apart. There are rolling blackouts, and taps routinely run dry: when U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited last month, water tanks had to be delivered to where she lived because of a water outage. Organized crime is rampant. Yet, just when it should be moving closer to its main source of trade and investment, it has veered off course. To friends in the West, South Africa’s claim to global importance looks increasingly absurd. Its sympathy for Russia only makes it more so.

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