A bipartisan group of American senators wants the Biden administration to punish South Africa for its alleged support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by moving a significant trade meeting to another nation.
According to the congressmen, South Africa’s “aid” to Russia, which allegedly includes supplying Moscow with weaponry, raises questions about whether it qualifies for trade benefits from the United States under a legislation that expands access to the American market for eligible sub-Saharan African nations.
The letter, dated June 9, was addressed to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
Although the letter had been “noted,” according to the spokeswoman for the South African foreign ministry, Clayson Monyela, South Africa still “enjoys the support of the U.S. government” for holding the African Growth and Opportunity Act summit.
The act, which grants sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the U.S. market provided they comply with certain requirements, has South Africa as one of its greatest beneficiaries. Through AGOA, South Africa exported $3 billion worth of goods to the US last year. After China, the United States is South Africa’s second-largest trading partner.
A change of venue for the summit in November “would send a clear and important message that the United States continues to stand with Ukraine and will not accept our trading partners provision of aid to Russia’s ongoing and brutal invasion,” according to the letter from U.S. legislators.
Republican Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, all signed it. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, also signed it.
Even though South Africa, notably its ruling African National Congress party, has historical links to Russia dating back to the days of the Soviet Union, the country is still regarded by the United States as a significant political and economic partner. The government of South Africa claims that as a result, it has taken a non-aligned position on the conflict in Ukraine.
Although the U.S. mainly agrees with that stance, it has perceived some of South Africa’s recent moves as actively helping Russia in the conflict rather than neutral.
Reuben Brigety, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, accused the nation of providing arms to Russia in a cargo ship that paid a covert visit to South Africa’s main naval base in December during a press conference in the South African capital of Pretoria last month.
The arrival of the Russian-flagged Lady R ship, which is subject to U.S. sanctions for allegedly delivering weapons for the Russian government, is being looked at by South Africa despite the country’s denial of the accusation.
According to the MPs, American information suggested that South Africa had “covertly” provided Russia with armaments on the Lady R.
They also discussed South Africa’s decision to host Russian and Chinese warships for naval drills in February, which fell on the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, and the April visit of a Russian military plane to a South African airbase that was also subject to U.S. sanctions.
The lawmakers’ letter stated, “We are very concerned that South Africa’s hosting of the 2023 AGOA Forum would serve as an implicit endorsement of South Africa’s destructive support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and likely violation of U.S. sanctions law.
Despite Putin being charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes in Ukraine, South Africa was also “working to facilitate the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin” at a meeting of developing economies in Johannesburg in August, according to U.S. legislators.
A top member of the ruling party in South Africa recently stated that the country would “welcome” a visit from Putin.
The major opposition party in South Africa stated that it believed the letter from U.S. legislators to be a sign that Washington’s tolerance for South Africa’s relationship with Russia was “fast diminishing.”
Although the Biden administration has not stated any sanctions or punishments for South Africa, commentators have suggested the trade bill as a potential sanction. Any restrictions on South Africa’s commerce with the United States would be extremely detrimental to the most developed nation in Africa, which is currently dealing with an energy crisis, a stagnating economy, and high unemployment.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman described any discussion of formal sanctions for South Africa against Russia as “reckless” and “pure alarmism” on Monday.