/ 16 May 2023

Russia denies weapons were loaded onto the Lady R

The Mojapelo panel has completed its investigation into the Lady R controversy and is drafting a report to President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Facebook/ Lorraine Goddard Bradbury)

The Russian government has weighed in on the Lady R weapons saga, denying that South Africa had sent the country any weapons on board the sanctioned cargo vessel, as was claimed by US ambassador Reuben Brigety.

A statement on the Russian Federation’s official South African embassy website on Tuesday said that, according to media reports, Brigety had provided no evidence to support his allegations, which appeared to be an attempt to change Pretoria’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

In addition, the calibre and type of ammunition manufactured in South Africa was not suitable for the weapons used by the Russian Federation’s army, it said.

Brigety’s comments last week sent the rand into freefall and sparked a scramble by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration — which has appointed a retired judge to probe their accuracy — to limit potential damage to South Africa’s trade relations with the US.

The country has been at pains to maintain its non-aligned stance over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and has abstained in the voting in successive resolutions on the matter before the UN General Assembly.

According to the Russian embassy statement, Brigety’s unproven allegations were part of a campaign to force South Africa to abandon this stance.

“Appointing guilty parties at [its] own discretion and resorting to ‘megaphone diplomacy’ have become typical characteristics of US foreign policy. In this context, the words of the US official cannot be perceived otherwise than as an attempt to sway the independent sovereign state’s foreign policy,” the Russian embassy said.

“This comes as no surprise, as the US seems to have lost its ability to interact with partners on [an] equal basis long ago. One’s friendship with the US is only possible under US rules.”

The embassy said a campaign to “pressure” South Africa, co-ordinated with mainstream Western media, was “increasingly gaining momentum”.

“The reason for that is the country’s non-aligned position with regard to the Ukraine conflict, which proves unsatisfactory for the United States,” it said.

The embassy said the docking of the Lady R in Simon’s Town was “being used as a pretext” and was “totally fabricated and as false as the notorious tube presented by US state secretary Colin Powell at the United Nations Security Council, which was followed by a full-scale invasion of Iraq and cost the lives of one million Iraqis”.

According to the statement, the Russian military did not use the type and calibre of ammunition produced by South Africa, while the “miniscule” amount of arms and ammunition allegedly loaded onto the ship could not have influenced the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine.

The embassy said the US and other Western countries had supplied $100 billion in weapons to Ukraine since 2014 and had recently approved an additional $1.2 billion.

US mission spokesperson David Feldmann said his embassy stood by Brigety’s statement and had “nothing more to add”.

Addressing a state visit by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Cape Town on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said that he had presented an African Union peace proposal to both Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy during separate phone calls.

“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine, its cost in human lives and impact on the African continent,” Ramaphosa said.

“In this regard, I presented the initiative on behalf of African heads of state, from Zambia, Senegal, Congo, Uganda, Egypt and South Africa. The two leaders agreed to receive the mission and the African heads of state, in both Moscow and Kyiv.”

Ramaphosa said he had agreed with both Putin and Zelenskiy “to commence with preparations for engagements with the African heads of state.” 

He said that the UN secretary general had been briefed about the initiative and had welcomed it.