Russian embassy rubbishes alleged Putin interference in JZ’s reshuffle as ‘fake news’

The Russian embassy in South Africa has denied any claim that the Russian government was involved in President Jacob Zuma’s latest Cabinet reshuffle, describing the allegations as “slanderous”.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported this weekend that a delegation from Russia had met with Zuma the day before he announced his 11th Cabinet reshuffle. Former state security minister David Mahlobo became the new energy minister in what has been reported to be a bid by Zuma to secure a nuclear deal with Russia. Mahlobo’s deployment to the energy ministry was an instruction that reportedly came from the Kremlin, the Sunday Times reported

“The Sunday Times can reveal that a high-level Russian team met Zuma on Monday just before he told the ANC top six about his decision to make changes to his Cabinet,” the newspaper reported on Sunday.

The Russian embassy released a scathing statement on Monday denying any claims made by the Sunday Times. Alexander Kulyaev, spokesperson for the embassy, described the report as “fake news” and “sensationalism”.

“We consider this slanderous piece, which is (as usual) based entirely on hearsay and unnamed sources’ information, unfit for a serious publication such as Sunday Times claims to be. One could speculate that only a desperate craving for extra publicity could force a once reputable outlet resort to tabloid-grade methods,” Kulyaev said in a statement.

Kulyaev said that the embassy was not aware of any visit from Russian senior delegates and questioned whether the Sunday Times‘ sources were real. The newspaper credited its information to “a source” and four people it claims are government insiders.

“The Embassy is completely unaware of any high-level Russian delegation coming to South Africa last week. Apparently, either these anonymous sources (if they do exist) know more than we do, or they live in some alternate reality,” Kulyaev said.

The embassy has also denied that Russia would interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

“More importantly, the very notion that Russia could be interfering in domestic affairs of other sovereign states, – and in such blatant manner no less – is plain ridiculous, goes contrary to fundamental principles of Russia’s foreign policy.”

The Sunday Times story comes after the newspaper previously reported that Mahlobo had visited Russia in September to discuss the nuclear deal

In 2014, news broke that South Africa had signed R50-billion deal with Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. The deal would see Rosatom provide 8 nuclear reactors in South Africa by 2023. 

But critics have argued the deal would bankrupt South Africa.

Earlier this year, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the nuclear deal signed by government with vendor countries would be unlawful and unconstitutional. 

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