US accuses South Africa of secretly arming Russia as war in Ukraine escalates

 WASHINGTON — The US accused the South Africa government on Thursday of secretly providing weapons to Russia last December, escalating an already contentious geopolitical controversy for the Biden administration over whether the US ally is getting too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At a news conference in the South African capital, U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety said the Biden administration is certain that arms were loaded onto a vessel in the dead of night at the Simon’s Town naval base over three days and then transported to Russia, according to reports of his comments by South African news outlets.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked about Brigety’s comments during a meeting of Parliament and refused to confirm or deny the U.S. accusations.

“The matter is being looked into,” Ramaphosa told political opposition leader John Steenhuisen, according to a video of the proceedings viewed by USA TODAY. “And in time in time we'll be able to speak about it. An investigation is underway.”

Ramaphosa declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

The controversy comes as Russia and the US feud over the allegiances of old and new allies in what has increasingly become an arms race and battle for influence over the war in Ukraine. Brigety's sharp comments also underscored the increasing tensions between the West and countries that have stopped short of condemning Russia over the war or joining in sanctions efforts.

President Joe Biden speaks during the U.S.-Africa Summit Leaders Session on partnering on the African Union's Agenda 2063, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Washington.

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Steenhuisen told the South African president that “ammunition and materials of war were loaded onto the sanctioned Russian ship ‘the Lady R’ when she docked at your government's naval base in Simon’s Town last December. This suggests that the ANC government is actively arming Russian soldiers who are murdering and maiming innocent people, not only in Ukraine but also across the African continent.”

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