THE United States of America’s claims that South Africa is supplying Russia with weapons are part of a fightback strategy against the BRICS’ growing influence, the escalating de-dollarisation campaign and the changing geopolitics, a former SA diplomat said.
Botsang Moiloa, an independent foreign policy analyst, believes US Ambassador Reuben Brigety’s allegations are a strategy to bully and use SA as an example to other developing nations that they would face the music should they dump the US dollar as their main foreign currency reserve.
This week Brigety accused SA of “uploading” weapons and ammunition onto a Russian vessel which docked at Simon’s Town, Western Cape, in December for a joint military exercise between SA, China and Russia. He said they were “confident [SA] uploaded weapons, ammunitions onto that vessel as it made its way back to Russia”.
The US Ambassador said this suggested that “in practice the government of SA is not non-aligned” on the Ukraine war. Brigety maintained that the alleged weapons supply was a violation of SA’s neutral stance on the Ukraine war, as did articulations that BRICS was a “counter” to the G7.
Moiloa said the weapons allegations were also aimed at pressuring SA, the host of the upcoming BRICS Summit in August, not to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend because his presence would prove that he remained influential and had support globally despite sanctions against his country. He said the Americans were playing mind games with South Africa and the broader developing nations.
“This is America trying to destabilise this de-dollarisation process. They have realised that South Africa is the weakest link. South Africa is the link that they can use because once South Africa buys into the whole process like other countries have been doing, they want to trade in our own currencies and BRICS currency.
“Once South Africa does that, it will close more doors for the US dollar because South Africa is a big trading country both in Africa and with BRICS member states. America is flying with these allegations to distract the world from moving away from the dollar,” said Moiloa.
At least 19 countries have applied or expressed a desire to join the BRICS Plus, in a move commentators said might create a powerful global economic and political bloc, led by China and Russia, and usher in a multipolar world. They include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Türkiye, Argentina, Venezuela and Malaysia. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are traditionally US allies.
Most of the countries whose BRICS membership would be discussed at the upcoming summit have already dumped the US dollar in favour of the Chinese Yuan or their own currencies when trading with each other. This comes against the backdrop of plans by the Brics members to establish their own currency, backed by gold.
Moiloa said the upcoming BRICS summit, and the expected decision to expand the block by adding several regional economic power houses, was a threat to Western economic strength.
“Putin coming to South Africa for the BRICS summit will strengthen the economic relations of BRICS, which is bad for the US. It will also give Putin an upper hand over the West to say in the middle of sanctions and a warrant of arrest, the man became defiant and he is having more friends outside.
“Things have been changing. There is a war in Ukraine and a number of countries that want to join BRICS. There are 19 applications that this summit must sit down and consider from prospective members, who have already met the requirements.
“By the time the summit ends this August, we may find that BRICS already has 10 countries, and America is trying to destabilise that. That is why Putin is coming out now and saying, ‘I’m not buying the South African proposal of holding the summit online.’ He says ‘I want to come and have protection from member states,” Moiloa said.
Moiloa further cast doubt on Brigety’s claims, saying South Africa needed to be at par with Russian weapons production in order to arm the re-emerging superpower.
“They are trying to divert attention. I think that is the whole strategy. It has nothing to do with arms. One of the things that I have picked up from military experts is that it is very factual that the arms that we produce do not fit the arms of Russia.”
“What we produce is not compatible with Russia. Whether it is rifles, shells, or tanks, what ArmsCo and Denel are producing actually suits the weapons of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and the Western countries more than those of Russia. Russia has different forms of artillery and so forth,” he said. “What is it that we can be saying to Russia? They are not telling the truth. They are trying to destablise this whole economic process by coming [up] with military allegations.”
Lindiwe Sisulu, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member and former minister, shared Moiloa’s sentiment. She added that Brigety’s claims showed that he had very little understanding of the defense sector and how it operated.
“I don’t know him but I think he is extremely inexperienced in the matter of how defense operates. One thing for sure, this means that we have a high ranking in our ammunition. It should be a pat on the back, a compliment, and a very big plus that Russia as such an advanced country should rely on us for arms,” Sisulu said.
“The Russian ship was here for military exercises. This is what every navy does to make sure that we are up to the standard to protect SA and the ocean. We do it with every nation. When I was Minister of Defence we had the German Ship, and we have done that with the United States.”
Sisulu said it was common for countries to engage in military exercises to strengthen their armies.
“There are continents around the sea and you practice on the sea. I can’t remember a country that has not done naval exercises. Whoever is making those allegations is trying to destabilise BRICS. “When the African Union started I was the Minister of Intelligence. It is a serious political game for us. We worked very hard, from [Nelson] Mandela to [Thabo] Mbeki to [Jacob] Zuma, so this is ludicrous. The ambassador is not familiar with the environment where this happened,” added Sisulu.
The former minister said she doubted that Brigety’s claims were based on any intelligence reports.
“I don’t think he was spying on us. If he was spying he would have kept it secret because that information would be true and would have been obtained clandestinely. I think he is being creative. He is new to the environment” .
“Russia has extremely sophisticated weapons. Those people have supersonic bombs. They only need the reciprocation of the friendship that they gave to us,” said Sisulu.
Moiloa also took issue with the South African government’s initial response to Brigety’s allegations, saying they missed an opportunity to put the US Ambassador in his place. This comes after the Presidency responded by establishing a commission of enquiry led by a retired judge to probe claims that it supplied weapons to Russia.
Naledi Pandor, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), has since summoned Brigety over his claims that SA armed Russia.
“By not outright calling out this rude ambassador’s lies, the SA government is feeding into the narrative that we supplied arms to Russia. They are saying nothing on the issued statement,” Moiloa insisted.
Approached for comment on Moiloa and Sisulu’s assertions, the spokesperson of the American Embassy in South Africa, David Feldman, said: “Thanks very much for the query. We have nothing to add. Thanks, and have a great weekend.”