South African Inquiry Rebuts U.S. Charge on Russian Arms

South African Inquiry Rebuts U.S. Cost on Russian Arms

An investigation by the South African authorities has concluded that weapons weren’t loaded onto a Russian vessel below American sanctions that docked close to Cape City final yr, contradicting accusations by U.S. officers that South Africa had supplied arms for the battle in Ukraine, President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned on Sunday.

“The panel discovered no proof that any cargo of weapons was loaded for export on to the ship, Woman R,” Mr. Ramaphosa mentioned in a televised tackle, after an investigation commissioned by him and led by a retired choose.

Mr. Ramaphosa had mentioned that he wouldn’t launch the whole report to guard categorized info, however {that a} abstract can be made public on Monday.

It stays to be seen whether or not the findings will soothe the connection between South Africa and america, which has reached its most tense interval in years largely due to the dispute over what occurred when the Woman R, a business cargo ship, docked at a South African naval base below cowl of evening final December.

In Could, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben E. Brigety II, made the extremely uncommon transfer of publicly accusing South Africa of loading arms onto the Woman R, saying that he would wager his life on it based mostly on the intelligence he had seen. That triggered a critical backlash in South Africa, with Mr. Brigety being summoned to fulfill with the international minister, Naledi Pandor, and, based on South African officers, apologizing for his public assertion.

Since then, officers in every nation have tried to patch up the injuries, however threats have lingered that america might revoke South Africa’s commerce privileges.

In the course of the South African investigation, the panel traveled to a naval base in Simon’s City, interviewed greater than 50 individuals and reviewed over 100 paperwork, Mr. Ramaphosa mentioned. The officers who made the claims have been additionally invited to submit proof, however they both didn’t seem or mentioned they didn’t have firsthand info, Mr. Ramaphosa mentioned in his tackle.

“Not one of the individuals who made these allegations might present any proof to assist the claims made towards our nation,” he mentioned.

The accusations, South Africa’s president mentioned, had broken the nation’s financial system and its standing on the planet, and known as into query the nation’s place within the battle between Russia and Ukraine.

Mr. Ramaphosa coupled his announcement with a press release on the success of the latest assembly of rising nations held in Johannesburg, the place leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and China, alongside South Africa — a gaggle often called BRICS — reiterated a impartial stance within the battle, whereas President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia used his platform to rail towards the West.

South African officers have embraced a sentiment — supported by Mr. Putin and China’s prime chief, Xi Jinping — of making a brand new world order that doesn’t revolve across the West.

South Africa’s choice to keep up heat ties with Russia, regardless of its invasion of Ukraine, has been a serious sore spot for america and different Western allies. The shut alliance dates to the period when the Soviet Union supported the struggle towards South Africa’s apartheid regime.

For the reason that Ukraine invasion, South African officers have mentioned that they have been sustaining a impartial stance and wished a peaceable decision whereas refusing to choose sides in a battle between superpowers.

However america and different Western nations have accused South Africa of failing to stay to its neutrality. In February, South Africa held naval drills with Russia and China. In Could, it allowed a Russian cargo airplane focused by U.S. sanctions to land at an air power base close to the capital of Pretoria. And final month, Mr. Ramaphosa warmly embraced Mr. Putin at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Mr. Ramaphosa has been one in every of his continent’s most vocal supporters of Mr. Putin.

Past the allegations from the U.S. ambassador, a lot of the suspicion across the Woman R got here from the weird circumstances surrounding the ship’s arrival alongside the South African shoreline final yr.

Windward, an organization that makes use of synthetic intelligence to investigate maritime exercise, analyzed the ship’s actions for The New York Instances, and located that over the previous decade, the Woman R nearly completely traveled the identical route between Novorossiysk, Russia, and China repeatedly.

However final October, the Woman R set sail on a route it had by no means traveled earlier than that took all of it the best way round Africa, based on Dror Salzman, an analyst at Windward, which supplies analysis to the United Nations. That new route was uncommon, Mr. Salzman mentioned, as a result of ships sometimes change their routes so drastically solely once they have new homeowners or are crusing below new flags, neither of which was the case with the Russian vessel, which is owned by Transmorflot.

After making a number of stops, together with at ports in Togo and Cameroon, the ship sat early final December simply exterior of South African territorial waters, close to Cape Agulhas on the continent’s southern tip. The transponder displaying its location then went darkish, based on Mr. Salzman, and didn’t come again on till 4 days later, close to the identical spot.

Throughout these days whereas the transponder was off, residents in Simon’s City, roughly 25 miles south of Cape City and residential to a South African naval base, reported seeing the ship docked there. Retired naval officers residing in Simon’s City and a residents mentioned that vehicles taking cargo to the ship stopped at a sports activities subject hidden by bushes fairly than the armory, as is often the case. The retired officers mentioned additionally they discovered it suspicious that the ship was offloaded at evening.

The Woman R left Simon’s City on Dec. 9. It sailed up the east coast of Africa and, earlier than docking in Mozambique, its transponder once more went off for somewhat greater than a day, Mr. Salzman mentioned.

Thandi Modise, South Africa’s protection minister, has mentioned the Woman R was delivering an order of kit for South Africa’s protection forces that was positioned in 2018-19 however that might not be delivered due to the pandemic. No weapons have been loaded onto the ship, she mentioned.

John Eligon reported from Johannesburg, and Lynsey Chutel from Simon’s City, South Africa.

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