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U.S.-South Africa relationship strong despite Russian aid claims, State Department says

The State Department and the Pentagon on Monday were silent on allegations from the U.S. ambassador to South Africa that Pretoria is supplying arms to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine

Officials at the State Department referred questions about the claims to the South African government.

“Our relationship with South Africa remains strong. We continue to be committed to the affirmative agenda of our bilateral relationship,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters. “There are a number of issues that we look forward to working with them on.”

Last week, Ambassador Reuben Brigety told local media in South Africa that U.S. officials were confident that a South African ship, the Lady R, was filled with military hardware and bound for Russian offensive operations in Ukraine.

“I will bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion,” Mr. Brigety said.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder declined to address the specifics of Ambassador Brigety’s claims, which have prompted a diplomatic row between both countries.

“This is something that we’re taking very seriously (and) it’s something that the U.S. government has raised and discussed with the South African government,” Gen. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Monday. “The U.S. has strongly urged countries not to provide support to Russia’s war machine.”

Mr. Brigety later partly walked back his allegations following official protests from the South African government. 

“I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with (South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor) and correct any misimpressions left by our public remarks. I reaffirmed the strong partnership between our two countries and the important agenda our presidents have given us,” Mr. Britety said on Twitter.

South African officials denied that they had violated their policy of not taking sides in the war in Ukraine.

“We have been firm on this point. South Africa has not been, and will not be, drawn into a contest between global powers,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended Ambassador Brigety, saying the way he was treated by South African government officials “doesn’t reflect friendship or a neutral partner.”

“It’s also unfortunate that the State Department didn’t back him up,” Mr. Risch said on Twitter.

A retired South African judge will lead an inquiry into what happened at the naval base because there is no “concrete evidence” to support the U.S. envoy’s allegations, President Ramaphosa said. South African military officials said they welcome the investigation.

“The inquiry will offer the (Defense Department) an opportunity to (tell) its side of the story with concrete evidence, and deal with allegations surrounding the purpose of such a visit in front of a competent officer of the law instead of hearsay or speculation,” South African military officials said in a statement.

The controversy prompted a phone call to President Ramaphosa over the weekend from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.

“I spoke about the peace formula, about justice, and about the fact that our world should be united by the rules of international law,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “Anyone who helps the aggressor with a weapon will be an accomplice with all the consequences.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁