Russia arms supply row “unlikely” to trigger US sanctions against South Africa

South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said his country had resolved a row with the US over allegations that Pretoria had supplied weapons to Russia and it is unlikely to face any repercussions.

A furore erupted on 11 May, when US Ambassador to South Africa Ruben Brigety told journalists that armaments were collected by a Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, from the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town in December.

South Africa’s government denied the accusation and criticised Brigety for going public with it.

The Americans first raised their concerns about the matter two months ago, and President Cyril Ramaphosa asked his security adviser and an independent judge to investigate, and dispatched a delegation to the US to ease tensions, Godongwana said.

“A number of actions were taken in order to ensure that our relationship with the US remains and that relationship should be normal and cordial,” he said in an interview in Cape Town on Sunday. “The Americans are not likely to respond with any anger tomorrow.”

The rand slumped to its weakest level on record against the dollar and yields on government bonds soared last week, amid investor concern that any escalation in the diplomatic row may put trade worth billions of dollars at risk.

The market reaction “could have a massive disruption to our fiscal framework,” and a recovery in the rand and the nation’s bonds will depend on whether investors are comforted that the issue has been resolved, Godongwana said.

“Once people realise that the matters raised by the ambassador have been dealt with, I think that things are going to stabilise.”

Relations between South Africa and the US have soured over Pretoria’s insistence that it’s taken a non-aligned stance toward Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Brigety’s comments exacerbated the tensions, with South Africa’s government expressing “utter displeasure with his conduct.”

The ambassador had been summoned to explain his remarks and “admitted that he crossed the line and apologised unreservedly,” it said.

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Both sides later pledged partnership and a commitment to working together, yet neither addressed the veracity of his claim that South Africa had sent weapons to Russia.

Brigety said in a tweet that he was grateful for the chance to “correct any misimpressions left by my public remarks” and a State Department spokesperson didn’t dispute Pretoria’s characterisation of his statement as an apology.

Godongwana said all South African weapons sales had to be vetted by a cabinet committee, and no official decision had been taken to supply Russia.

“If it did happen as the Americans claim, it could be a conduct of people who were mischief makers,” he said. “People who have got that information must provide that information to the judge so that we can take the necessary action.”

Now read: South Africa says “no record” weapons were sold to Russia for war in Ukraine

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Russia arms supply row “unlikely” to trigger US sanctions against South Africa