“There are those who insist that we take a very hostile stance towards Russia”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blamed NATO for the conflict in Ukraine and said he would resist calls condemn Russia. The statements of the South African leader, as noted by the media, cast doubt on his acceptance by Ukraine or the West as a mediator in a peace settlement.
Cyril Ramaphosa, who spoke Thursday in the South African parliament, said that the armed conflict in Ukraine “could have been avoided if NATO had for years heeded the warnings of its own leaders and officials that its eastward expansion would lead to greater not less instability in the region.”
True, the South African president refrained, according to Al Jazeera, from expressing direct support for Russia’s actions and added that South Africa “cannot tolerate the use of force and the violation of international law” .
President Ramaphosa also said that Vladimir Putin personally assured him that negotiations with the Ukrainian side were progressing. The South African leader said he had not yet spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but would like to do so.
On Friday, Ramaphosa said that South Africa had been asked to mediate in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. However, he did not specify who exactly asked him to intervene as a mediator.
“There are those who insist that we take a very hostile position towards Russia,” President Ramaphosa added. “The approach we are going to take instead is to insist on the need for dialogue.”
Ramaphosa's African National Congress Party, which has ruled South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994, had strong ties to the former Soviet Union, which trained and supported anti-apartheid activists during the Cold War.
For this reason, South Africa is sometimes viewed with suspicion by Russia's rivals in the West, although it still enjoys a high level of diplomatic influence.
President Ramaphosa said that South Africa's historic refusal to take sides meant “some are even asking us for a role we can play in mediation.”
“We never want to pretend that we have as much influence as other countries, but we are being approached,” said Cyril Ramaphosa. “The condemnation of one of the parties deprives us of the role that we could play.”
Pretoria's position caused undisguised disappointment in the West. According to Foreign Policy, “South Africa today appears to be driven by a fetish of non-alignment and negotiation (…) and Cold War nostalgia, when Moscow offered unwavering support for the liberation movement, rather than a sober assessment of modern Russia and a consistent commitment to its self-proclaimed moral foreign policy. Instead, its leaders are echoing Russian security arguments.”
In this context, the publication in Foreign Policy sharply criticizes the position of South Africa during the vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine. South Africa was among the countries that abstained, as South African diplomats argued that the text of the resolution “does not create conditions conducive to diplomacy, dialogue and mediation” and “may drive a deeper wedge between the parties, rather than help resolve the conflict.”
Trying to explain Pretoria's disadvantageous position for the West, Foreign Policy points out that economic ties with Russia could theoretically be a factor, but they are relatively small and do not explain the position of South Africa. Under former President Jacob Zoom, South Africa has forged closer ties with Moscow by joining the BRICS group in an attempt to attract more Russian investment, but traditional partners such as Germany and the UK are of much greater trade importance for South Africa. And as South African analyst Mandla notes Isaacs, only China and India among the BRICS countries are in the top ten export markets of South Africa; Russia is not even in the top 30.
In this regard, Foreign Policy argues that South Africa’s behavior in the context of the Ukraine crisis is “driven not by real politics, but by misguided nostalgia” and warm feelings that many South Africans — and other Africans feel for the Soviet era, given the economic, military and diplomatic assistance that Moscow provided to liberation movements throughout the Black Continent at a time when the United States and Europe opposed them and even provided assistance to their oppressors.