South Africa’s Defense Minister Thandi Modise has arrived in Russia for a Moscow-hosted conference on international security. The visit comes amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and as Russian forces there are occupying Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It also comes just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Africa in part to try to win more African support against Russia’s invasion.
Despite South Africa repeatedly proclaiming its neutrality in the Russia/Ukraine war, several analysts say Modise’s attendance at the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security shows the country is siding with Russia.
“We have not seen any condemnation of Russia, despite the dire impact of the war on the supply of goods and services in South Africa, said Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services. “And, also, when you look at attending a defense-kind of a forum in a moment such as this, I mean I cannot imagine any stronger indication of support of Russia,” he said.
Mathekga believes it’s a blow to South African-U.S. relations, considering U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Africa just last week.
“It actually says that South Africa is nailing its colors to the mast.,” he said. “I think it was a frustrating visit for the secretary of state because South Africa did not hold back on their indication that they are not going to pick sides on this, they are not going to be bullied by global powers in their continued cold war as it’s being called.”
Mathekga warns that while South Africa may be willing to rely on its bigger partners in the BRICS alliance, namely China and India, to help it through these turbulent economic times, it should not ignore the reality that the European Union and America are two of its biggest trading partners.
Sipho Mantula, a researcher at the Thabo Mbeki African School on Public and International Affairs, says it’s likely South Africa couldn’t ignore the invitation because of its status as a member of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.
He says Russia also has a close relationship with many African states whose freedom fighters it helped train during the 1960s and 1970s.
“The conflict of Russia and Ukraine is absent from this official program. The key issues that will come out will be around dealing with international global terrorism, the issues of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.
However, he conceded that while South Africa may call for peaceful negotiations to end the Russian/Ukraine war, the gathering in Moscow may be a sign of a potential military alliance.
“One will assume so because Russia is trying by all means to galvanize its support politically, economically, militarily. So one would assume that they are trying by all means because this is a very high-level technical meeting that is taking place. And one will assume yes, it is part of mobilizing allies, mobilize those who can say they are friendly states towards Russia,” he said.
Defense Minister Modise is due to address the Moscow security conference Tuesday.