U. S. ambassador to South Africa accused the country Thursday of providing weapons and ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine via a cargo ship linked to a sanctioned company that docked secretly at a naval base near the city of Cape Town in December.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said an investigation into the visit by a Russian vessel named Lady R to his nation’s main naval base was already underway behind the scenes with the help of U.S. intelligence services before Ambassador Reuben Brigety went public at a news conference in the South African capital, Pretoria, 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 Dec. 6 and Dec. 8 and then transported to Russia. He said it 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. Despite South Africa’s neutral stance on the war in Ukraine, the Biden Administration was hoping it could still be a key buffer against growing Russian and Chinese influence on the continent.
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.”