Senior military officers from South Africa and Russia have agreed to boost cooperation, and increase the combat readiness of their armies, in talks held in Moscow, Russia’s defence ministry has been quoted as saying by the state-owned Tass news agency.
The high-level talks come days after the US ambassador to Pretoria, Reuben Brigety, accused South Africa of supplying arms and ammunition to Russia, despite its professed neutrality in the Ukraine war.
The commander of South Africa’s land forces, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, led the talks with his Russian counterpart, Oleg Salyukov, in Moscow, Tass reports.
“The sides discussed issues of military cooperation, and the implementation of projects geared to enhance the combat readiness of the two countries’ armies.
“The meeting between the military commanders yielded agreements on the further expansion of cooperation between the land forces in various areas,” the ministry is quoted as saying.
Last week, South Africa found itself at the centre of a diplomatic storm with the US after Mr Brigety said he was confident that arms and ammunition were loaded on a Russian ship at a naval base in Cape Town in December.
South Africa said it had no record of an arms sale, but President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered an inquiry to investigate the allegations.
In his weekly newsletter published on Monday, Mr Ramaphosa said South Africa was under “extraordinary pressure” to take sides in the Ukraine war, but it would not do so in what was “in effect a contest between Russia and the West”.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) confirmed that senior military officers were currently in Moscow.
“It must be noted that South Africa has military-to-military bilateral relations with various countries in the continent and beyond,” the SANDF said in a statement, adding that the trip to Russia was planned well in advance.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said the visit was the latest example of the South African government “unashamedly” showing its support for Russia.