Russia's Lavrov gets controversial welcome in South Africa

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sergei Lavrov (L) shakes hands with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor (R) during a press conference following their meeting at the OR Tambo Building in Pretoria on January 23, 2023. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • A continental powerhouse, South Africa has refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and resisted taking sides over the war. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was welcomed by his South African counterpart for talks in Pretoria on Monday, in a visit that has sparked criticism against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

A continental powerhouse, South Africa has refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and resisted taking sides over the war. 

The conflict has triggered sweeping Western sanctions against Moscow and attempts leave it diplomatically isolated. 

South African foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told a press briefing ahead of the meeting the talks would help "strengthen the already good relations" between the two countries. 

Sitting alongside Lavrov she described Russia as a "valued partner". 

South Africa recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS, a grouping that also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China to challenge the dominant US- and European-led global governance structures.

Last week, it announced it will host 10-day joint maritime drills with Russia and China off the port city of Durban and Richards Bay in February.

But the links with Moscow has triggered criticism in the country, with some accusing the government of having abandoned it neutral stance. 

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the South African government is openly siding with Russia," said Darren Bergman, a lawmaker with the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party. 

Last week, the foundation of late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, called the planned naval exercises "disgraceful" and "tantamount to a declaration that South Africa is joining the war against Ukraine". 

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