Protesters from Ukrainian association of SA and Extinction Rebellion demonstrate in Cape Town against South Africa s 10-day routine joint military exercise with Russia and China along its eastern coast. AFP
Ambassador Reuben Brigety said the U.S. was certain that weapons were loaded onto the vessel at the Simon's Town naval base and then transported to Russia, according to the reports carried by multiple South African news outlets.
Brigety said South Africa's alleged arming of Russia during its invasion of Ukraine was “extremely serious” and called into question South Africa's supposed neutral stance in the conflict.
“Among the things we (the U.S.) noted was the docking of the cargo ship in the Simon’s Town Naval Base between the 6th and 8th December 2022, which we are confident uploaded weapons and ammunition onto that vessel in Simon’s Town as it made its way back to Russia,” Brigety was quoted as saying to reporters during a news conference in the South African capital, Pretoria.
Questions were raised in January by an opposition party in South Africa over the presence of a “mystery” Russian vessel making a stop at the Simon's Town base. The government didn't comment publicly on it.
The South African government, a key partner for the U.S. in Africa, has stated numerous times it has a neutral position on the war in Ukraine and wants the conflict resolved peacefully.
But recent displays of its closeness to Russia opened Africa's most developed country to accusations that it has effectively taken Russia's side.
South Africa hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in January, giving him a platform to blame the West for the war in Ukraine. Weeks later, South Africa allowed warships from the Russian and Chinese navies to perform drills off its east coast. The Russian navy brought its Admiral Gorshkov frigate, one of its navy's flagship vessels.
The South African navy also took part in the drills and characterized them as exercises that would "strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China."
South Africa's decision to stage those naval drills in February, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine, raised “serious concerns” for the U.S., Brigety was quoted as saying Thursday.
At the time of the drills, the South African armed forces said they were planned years ago before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.