South Africa

South Africa’s love for Russia explained

Vladimir Putin is wrapping up a trip to China, where his warm ties with President Xi Jinping have led to booming trade and increasing defense coordination.

More than two years since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine began, it’s a far cry from efforts by the US and its Group of Seven allies to isolate the Russian leader.

They imposed sweeping sanctions, frozen Russia’s foreign assets, and removed major Russian lenders from the SWIFT financial messaging system.

A year later, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, alleging war crimes. Moscow seemed cornered.

China’s embrace is mirrored by a network of other states that have kept Russia from pariah status.

Many join with Moscow to bolster joint interests at summits like the Group of 20 and to rival Western powers in clubs like the BRICS.

Some are driven by pragmatic self-interest, focusing on energy, trade or economic considerations.

For others, military cooperation or weapons lie at the heart of the entente. More often than not, they share a common outlook with Russia — a desire to supplant the post-Cold War, US-led world order.

South Africa is one of the countries which have maintained close ties with Russia during the Ukraine war.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has refused to condemn Putin over the war, or back United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow for the invasion.

The two nations are both members of BRICS and its forums have provided an opportunity for their leaders to regularly interact.

Ramaphosa did persuade Putin to skip a BRICS summit in Johannesburg last year and participate virtually instead, sparing Pretoria from having to decide whether to arrest him under the ICC warrant.

While trade between Russia and South Africa is negligible, they have long-standing historical ties that stem from the proactive stance the Soviet Union took against white-minority rule.

A number of senior members of the African National Congress sought sanctuary and underwent military training in Russia during the apartheid era.

Russian companies were in the running to build new nuclear power plants in South Africa during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure, although plans to issue a contract have been on ice since Ramaphosa took office in 2018 due to cost.

Russia has also sought to build good will in Africa through security assistance, arms and grain — food supplies that, in part, were cut off because its war in Ukraine threatened Black Sea shipping.

In turn, Russia wants access to markets and new allies that can soften the impact of sanctions, and expand its military influence at the expense of Western powers.


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