South Africa remains neutral on Ukraine conflict, retains close ties to Russia, trade partner for years, joint military exercise with Russia and China in February, opposition parties and Ukrainian community critical.
South Africa has remained neutral on Russia’s war in Ukraine and has expressed a desire to mediate. The country has maintained close ties with Russia, including in terms of trade and military drills. South Africa has been criticized by some opposition parties and the Ukrainian community for its position, while President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has insisted that it will not be dragged into taking sides.
The South African military will host a joint military exercise with Russia and China on its east coast on February 17 to 27. This has caused tension with Washington and European countries, as it coincides with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. John Steenhuisen, leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, has warned of Russia’s “elite capture” of African nations through long-term patronage schemes.
South Africa has a long-standing relationship with Russia, which was a friend to the African National Congress during its liberation movement against white minority rule. Trade between the two countries has grown in recent years, with South African exports to Russia reaching $587m in 2020 and Russian exports to South Africa totalling $506m.
The South African government has declared its neutrality in the Ukraine-Russia conflict and has sought to mediate. However, this has led to criticism from some opposition parties and the Ukrainian community. South Africa’s upcoming joint military exercise with Russia and China has also caused tension with the West. Russia has been accused of “elite capture” of African nations through long-term patronage schemes. Despite this, South Africa and Russia continue to maintain strong economic and military ties.