© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov address a bilateral meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, January 23, 2023. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
By Tim Cocks and Carien Du Plessis
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa and its neighbors were at the center of a tense standoff this week as Russian and U.S. officials visited, providing the latest moment of leverage for governments on a continent that has been more affected by events than pressure.
With the war in Europe raging against Russian troops attacking Ukrainian troops supplied with Western weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen were both seeking international support.
For the countries of southern Africa, which still have a strong and sympathetic attitude towards Russia but have important trade relations with the European Union and the United States, the competition offers an opportunity.
“They have the opportunity to play from one side to the other to get money; to get more aid, to do more business,” said Steven Gruzd of the South African Institute of International Affairs. “That’s exactly what we’re seeing at the moment.”
The war in Ukraine has deepened a long-running rivalry over Africa’s vast natural resources and the diplomatic prize for its 54 UN votes.
But African votes at the United Nations show the continent is divided over whether to support the war in Ukraine.
The small kingdom of Eswatini, located between South Africa and Mozambique, has a net worth of less than $5 billion. No Russian ambassador lives there.
However, Lavrov paused after visiting South Africa, which his colleague Thulisile Dladla described as “a great honor.” The two parties signed a visa agreement.
Eswatini relies on the United States for aid, but its entire kingdom has been criticized by the US for human rights.
For South Africa, the world’s richest and most economically powerful country, it was an opportunity to act on the alliance of the whites, who they saw as superior and powerful.
After receiving Lavrov in Pretoria, his colleague Naledi Pandor defended the military exercises planned by Russia and China as a “natural partnership” between “friends”, and said that South Africa no longer believes that Russia should leave Ukraine, unless there is a peace agreement. he agrees.
South Africa, along with Russia and China, is pushing for a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is not concentrated around the United States. For this reason, I am excited to present the expected political and commercial cooperation between Brazil, Russia, India, China and them (BRICS) — when it will hold a meeting at the end of this year.
“A more inclusive world for many people. This is the vision of the BRICS family and what we all subscribe to,” Anil Sooklal, a South African official in charge of BRICS, told Reuters.
But South Africa’s exports to Russia were $587 million in 2020, while exports to the United States in the same year were $10.2 billion, data from The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) shows.
“South Africa values BRICS, but the reality is that BRICS (has) delivered very little,” said Tom Lodge, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Limerick. “It has not delivered the kind of benefits that South Africa was hoping to get.”
Russia-ally China, a major trade partner, has been more interested in commodities such as wine and wool than in the technology that South Africa wants to sell, Lodge said, adding, “The United States offers a trade opportunity.”
However, despite South Africa’s refusal to vote against Russia at the UN and its rejection of NATO on Ukraine, Yellen met with South African officials and on Thursday will visit mining sites that are out of work from the change in green energy that the United States has. a great helper.
Although Angola’s aging political class still remembers Russia’s support for its then-Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) during its 27-year civil war against Washington-backed rebels, there has been a major shift in the West since President João Lourenço . entered in 2017.
“Angola is one of the few African countries that oppose Russia’s actions – apparently due to pressure from the EU,” said South African political analyst Marisa Lourenco, referring to the “power pivot to the US and away from Russia.”
Angola also wants to expand its relations with Germany, France and its former ruler Portugal, he said. Lourenço also said in an interview with the Voice of America in December that he wants to stop Russian military aid in exchange for US military equipment.
This did not stop Lavrov from making a phone call to Luanda on Wednesday, where he offered to offer 300 university scholarships to 300 students next year using Russian soft power. Russia’s Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond producer, has a 41% stake in Angola’s largest mines.
“Russians want to say out loud that they are not alone, and that they are welcome everywhere,” said Irina Filatova, Emeritus Humanities professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“(This) may not like (southern Africa) to the US or Britain, but it does not mean that they will stop doing business,” he said. “It’s very important.”