Russia, South Africa and the “Redesigned World Order”

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 23, 2023: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meets with South African Foreign Minister Naldi Pandor (R) during his official visit to Pretoria.

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Russia and South Africa pledged this week to strengthen bilateral ties and will begin joint military exercises next month to coincide with the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Pretoria as part of an African tour, his second since the invasion, which will also reportedly take him to Botswana, Angola and Swatini.

Diplomatic analysts told CNBC that the trip is primarily a sign of Russia’s “non-isolation” and a message that key strategic alliances remain intact despite Western sanctions and efforts to remove it from the world stage.

On February 24, 2022, shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, South Africa asked Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine. However, since then, the tone has changed. South Africa was one of 15 African countries that abstained from a subsequent UN vote in March to condemn Russia’s war of aggression.

Speaking at a joint press conference alongside Lavrov on Monday, South African Foreign Minister Naldi Pandour said it was “naïve and childish” to call for Russia’s withdrawal during their meeting and the “massive transfer of arms” that has since been carried out by Western countries. has occurred noted. Power to support Ukraine’s military efforts.

Pandora also praised the “growing bilateral economic relations” between Pretoria and Moscow, along with “political, economic, social, defense and security cooperation”.

He emphasized the multilateral responsibilities of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc of leading emerging economies in a changing global landscape.

South Africa will host BRICS this year, and its ruling African National Congress (ANC) has suggested Pretoria could use its presidency to press for new members to expand the bloc’s presence and challenge the dominance of global superpowers.

Current global geopolitical tensions clearly demonstrate the need to develop institutional mechanisms that have global form and confidence to promote and support global peace and security – BRICS must play an active role in emerging processes and ensure that it is part of the redesign. It is universal. Pandora said.

Although he called for a peaceful end to the war through diplomacy and negotiations, there was no direct condemnation of the invasion.

Timing of joint naval exercise ‘could be deliberate’

South Africa will host a joint naval exercise with Russia and China between February 17 and 27, and Pandour responded to concerns by arguing that hosting such operations with “friends” is part of the “normal course of relations”. The idea that only some countries are acceptable partners.

The timing of the joint exercise, called “Mosi,” meaning “smoke” in the Tswana language, “has attracted international attention,” Steven Grozde, head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Program at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told CNBC on Tuesday. will do. He also suspected that it “could be intentional.”

“Obviously one can choose the timing of these things, and choosing the right time on the anniversary, maybe South Africa’s way of saying, ‘Look, we’re an independent sovereign country and we’re going to do our own foreign policy,'” he says. “In the way we see fit, and in a way that furthers our interests, and no one tells us or blames us.”

The governor of South Africa's central bank will be alert to inflationary pressures

South Africa has been under pressure from Western partners to unite against the invasion of Ukraine and has strongly refused to be “bullied” into taking sides, as Pandora calls it.

White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday that “the United States has concerns about any country … training with Russia while Russia is waging a brutal war against Ukraine.”

Central to Russia’s appeal to many African countries is its ability to promote itself as an anti-imperialist resistance, capitalizing on anger among the likes of the United States, Britain and France over a history of Western repression on the continent, analysts said.

Eleonora Taforo, a senior researcher at the Center for Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia at Italy’s Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), told CNBC on Tuesday that despite having little trade relations with the African continent compared to the European Union, Russia was able to overcome “anti-imperialist sentiments.” invest and receive “supportive attitudes” from the West.

based on “anti-colonial” sentiments.

In his opening remarks on Monday, Pandour noted the Russian Federation’s support 30 years ago — then part of the Soviet Union — of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa that was to form the base of the ANC.

“It is ironic that this particular element is playing to the end of the Kremlin to justify this war of aggression against Ukraine,” Tafuro said, referring to the lack of empathy among African countries towards Ukrainians as victims of imperialism.

I think Russia is very skillfully using information and propaganda to build this narrative, but it’s successful because there is already this deep culture of anti-Western sentiment in countries like South Africa, and it’s related to their own history. “Victims of Imperialism”.

Russia’s growing influence has been evident in recent weeks during protests in Burkina Faso, with demonstrators denouncing France and the regional bloc ECOWAS while waving Russian flags.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – January 20, 2023: A banner of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen during a protest in support of Burkina Faso President Captain Ibrahim Traore and calls for the withdrawal of the French ambassador and military forces.


There is no doubt that there is growing discontent with France in its former playground, and that Russia is growing in chaos and its institutions are filling the gap as France retreats, Grozde noted.

He also noted that Russia’s social media activity, along with promoting pro-Kremlin messages, builds on “existing fault lines, such as anti-French or anti-gay sentiments” and rivalries between political blocs.

“Countries like South Africa have really bought into the Russian narrative of being an anti-colonial power, supporting the little guy, having a superpower and having that superpower, which is the United States, is not good for the world, it has to be Multipolarity, which requires alternating power sources and power distribution, Groz explained.

It resonates, and it resonates strongly, and it resonates strongly with countries that have been marginalized by the West.

African countries are not “grounds for great power competition”.

In just the past month, Lavrov, China’s new foreign minister, Kevin Gang, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have all embarked on African trips, with Yellen scheduled to meet with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this week.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Schulz also visited the continent last year, while US President Joe Biden hosted the US-Africa summit in December. which is seen as an attempt to restore some of the influence that Washington has lost. to China in the last decade or so.

Both Tafuro and Grozde noted that the flurry of diplomatic activity should not be seen as a “scramble for Africa”, as the continent’s bargaining power means it is now firmly on the table.

I think from an African point of view, we prefer not to be classified as just an arena of great power competition, but we have to recognize that African governments and African societies are active in their own right, so they are not pawns in anybody’s hands. They are the players sitting around the board, Gruzd said.

GOURI ISLAND, SENEGAL – JANUARY 21, 2023: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (R) receives a diploma of the Grand Pilgrim of Gouri Award from Gouri lawyer and mayor Augustin Sengar (L) during a visit to Gouri Island off the coast of the city. Dakar on January 21, 2023.

SEYLLOU/AFP via Getty Images

Tafuro also argued that comparing it to the Cold War or simplifying diplomatic visits to competition for resources misses the major paradigm shift that is currently underway.

“Sometimes we forget that these African countries have their own agency and that ultimately it is up to them to decide whether relations with China, Turkey or Russia are worthwhile and whether it is in their best interest to maintain a balanced approach. Anyone who wants to do business, does business.

It’s also up to them to shape their relationships with these foreign players.”

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