U.S. top official has accused the country of covertly providing weapons and ammunition to Russia via a cargo ship, escalating a foreign policy crisis for President Cyril Ramaphosa over the country’s ties to the Kremlin and position on the Ukraine war.
U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety said on Thursday, May 11, at a news conference in Pretoria that the U.S. believed the covert weapons supply was linked to a sanctioned company that docked secretly at a naval base near Cape Town last December.
‘Among the things we noted was the docking of the cargo ship . . . which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition on to that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,’ he said, in comments reported by South Africa’s News24.
Brigety also said that senior US officials had ‘profound concerns’ about the incident, which ‘does not suggest to us the actions of a non-aligned country’.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said an investigation into the visit by a Russian vessel named Lady R to South Africa’s main naval base was already underway behind the scenes with the help of U.S. intelligence services before Brigety went public that the cargo was weapons and ammunition.
Brigety said the U.S. was certain that military equipment was loaded onto the Lady R at the Simon’s Town naval base between December 6 and December 8 and then transported to Russia.
The ambassador added that the intelligence brought into question South Africa’s supposed neutral stance on the war in Ukraine and its calls for the conflict to end.
‘The arming of the Russians is extremely serious and we do not consider this issue to be resolved,’ Brigety said in comments reported by multiple South African news outlets.
If South Africa is found to be giving Russia military aid, it threatens to fracture the relationship between the United States and a key partner in Africa.
While Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement later Thursday that there was currently ‘no evidence’ to support allegations that arms were loaded onto the Lady R, The Associated Press established that the vessel is tied to a company that was sanctioned last year by the U.S. for being involved in transporting military equipment for the Russian government.
The news of Brigety’s comments broke while Ramaphosa was in Cape Town answering questions on other matters in Parliament.
When the leader of the political opposition, John Steenhuisen, asked about the weapons and ammunition, the president replied that ‘the matter is being looked into, and in time we will be able to speak about it.’
Ramaphosa declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter.