This article needs to be updated. The reason given is: A background section should be added describing the details/context of the specific sanctions against the vessel (e.g. when was it sanctioned?), discussing notable South Africa's actions/statements regarding the war prior to the incident, and background info on the ship (when was it made, was has it usually transported/done, etc.). Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (November 2023)

The Lady R (vessel with the red hull, right) being tugged away from Naval Base Simon's Town on 9 December 2022, the SAS Mendi (left) can be seen in the foreground.

The Lady R incident, also known as #LadyRussiagate, refers to the docking of the sanctioned Russian cargo ship Lady R at Simon's Town Naval Base in South Africa in December 2022 and the resulting diplomatic impact. The ship was carrying military cargo.[1] The incident is controversial for the secretive nature of the docking[2][3] and an allegation by the United States ambassador to South Africa that South African military supplies were loaded onto the ship for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.[4][5][6]

Docking at Simon's Town Naval Base

Russia's Lady R disembarking Simon's Town Naval Base early on Friday, 9 December 2022 following its secretive and controversial docking.

Sometime between 8 pm and 10 pm on Tuesday, 6 December 2022, the Lady R docked at the Naval Base in Simon's Town.[7][3] The ship had turned off its marine tracking system, and its arrival was unexpected and controversial.[3][8] The ship was loaded and unloaded with cargo under armed guard at night under the cover of darkness as the country experienced a planned national rolling blackout[2] on 8 December.[9] The ship left early the next day on Friday, 9 December 2022.[2][10][8] The docking was shrouded in secrecy, and neither the South African nor Russian governments commented on it at the time.[8][11][2][10]

There was significant speculation at the time about whether or not this was an instance of South Africa supplying weapons to Russian forces in support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Two weeks later, following repeated questions about the docking, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise stated that the Lady R was offloading an old, outstanding order for ammunition.[1][12]

Witnesses observed that 6 shipping containers were loaded on to the ship before midnight on 8 December just prior to its departure.[13]

The Lady R's arrival in South Africa came at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the West over Russia's invasion of Ukraine[2] and South Africa's unwillingness to criticize the invasion despite its policy of supporting a rules based international order.[14]

Lady R leaves Simon's Town Naval Base

2023 accusation by the American ambassador

On 11 May 2023, the United States ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, accused the country of supplying arms to Russia during the December 2022 docking of the Lady R.[4] During the same announcement, ambassador Brigety also stated that the African National Congress (ANC), the governing political party of South Africa since 1994, had been unresponsive to repeated American attempts at dialogue and that the ANC's policy document on the war in Ukraine was "hostile" to the government of the United States.[5][15][16] Ambassador Brigety went on to say that this indicated that South Africa was "not non-aligned",[17] contrary to South Africa's officially proclaimed non-aligned position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[17]

The docking of the Lady R, along with other incidents of South Africa-Russia cooperation, further strained South Africa's relationship with the US and other Western countries whilst increasing skepticism in the West of South Africa's self-proclaimed non-aligned or neutral position on the war in Ukraine.[18][19] Prior to ambassador Brigety's accusation South Africa had also hosted the naval exercise Mosi II with Russia and China which coincided with the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine,[20][18] and allowed the secretive landing of a US-sanctioned Russian cargo aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.[18][21]

Roughly two weeks before ambassador Brigety's accusation, South Africa had sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the continuation of the country's inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),[22] during which the American government claims they had raised concerns with the South African delegation about the country arming Russia.[4]

Reaction in South Africa

South Africa denied the allegation and stated that the country's interaction with the Lady R was consistent with its non-aligned position on the war in Ukraine.[23] South African President and President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa stated that an independent inquiry would be launched to investigate Brigety's accusation.[24][25][26] South Africa démarched ambassador Brigety and claimed that Bridgety later apologized for the statement.[27][28] Following the accusation, South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana stated that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had informed him in February 2023 of American suspicions that South Africa had supplied arms and ammunition to Russia when the Lady R docked.[29]

Four days after ambassador Brigety's accusation, the commander of Russia's ground forces, general Oleg Salyukov, met with chief of the South African army lieutenant general Lawrence Mbatha to discuss issues of military cooperation and combat readiness.[30][19] South Africa denied that the meeting was connected to the diplomatic incident resulting from the Lady R docking and stated that the trip was planned before Brigety's statement.[30][19]

At an ANC political event, President Ramaphosa later stated that his government found Brigety's accusation "distasteful" and as "an attack"[31][32] on South Africa by not following normal diplomatic processes but stated that talks with the ambassador thereafter were cordial.[32][33]

South Africa's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, accused the ANC government of secretly supplying weapons to Russia in return for secret funding for the ANC's re-election campaign in the 2024 general election.[34] Stating that unless one considered the possibility of Russian funding for the ANC, South Africa's support for Russia in its war against Ukraine "made no sense."[34] South Africa's third largest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, rejected the accusation,[35] called for the immediate dismissal of ambassador Brigety,[36] accused the US of spreading propaganda,[37] and stated that if "guns [...] were given to Russia [then] it was a good thing."[38]

The South African civil society group Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) demanded that the South African government publicly share information on what cargo was loaded onto the Lady R and be more transparent about South African arms sales generally.[36] The South African academic and criminologist Guy Lamb asserted that, assuming South Africa acted in accordance with its own laws, it was highly unlikely that South Africa loaded arms or ammunition onto the Lady R.[39]

The diplomatic incident caused speculation over whether the United States would be continuing South Africa's preferential trade status with the country through the AGOA,[5][6][40] thereby possibly inflicting significant damage to South Africa's economy.[41][42] There was also speculation that the incident might also threaten the continued status of PEPFAR in South Africa.[43] The value of the South African Rand declined from R18.8 per US dollar on 10 May to R19.3 per dollar by 18 May,[44] a decline that was attributed to the incident.[44][45] In May 2023, South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise insisted "there was fokol (Afrikaans: nothing) on that ship".[46]

At least two South African journalists stated that if the claims are proven false, Ambassador Brigety should be either ousted or punished for making unsubstantiated claims.[47][48]

Reaction in Russia and Ukraine

Russia responded by stating that their government "expressed their intention to further intensify mutually beneficial relations" in a possible attempt to exploit the situation.[27] The Russian government later described ambassador Brigety's accusation as "totally fabricated and as false"[49] whilst comparing it to Colin Powell's 2003 presentation to United Nations Security Council falsely accusing Iraq of having WMDs.[49]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the incident by stating that he had spoken with President Ramaphosa two days after ambassador Brigety's accusation about "the peace formula [for the war], about justice, and about how our world should be united by the rules of international law."[50][51] President Zelensky also stated that “anyone who helps the aggressor [Russia] with weapons will be an accomplice with all consequences” in possible reference to the event.[50][51]

Inquiry findings

In May 2023, Ramaphosa named a three-person panel to investigate the incident.[52] The South African government published the executive summary of the findings but kept the full report secret arguing that it needed to maintain military security.[53][54] The inquiry, headed by former judge Phineas Mojapelo,[55] found that whilst the ship had delivered weapons from Russia to South Africa, there was "no evidence to support the claim that the ship transported weapons from South Africa destined for Russia."[56][57]

The inquiry also found that the South African government was unaware that the sanctioned Russian ship was heading to South Africa until it neared South African waters and that it was redirected to Naval Base Simon's Town after the port at Ngqura-Port Elizabeth refused to service the sanctioned ship.[58] The inquiry also noted the role of the United Arab Emirates in facilitating the weapons transaction,[55] and that the ship had turned off its identification transponder as it was being tracked by unnamed foreign intelligence agencies.[58] The inquiry concluded that because the US sanctions were not endorsed by the United Nations, they were not binding on South Africa.[58]

According to journalist Thulani Mpofu, "A South African government inquiry into whether weapons were loaded onto a Russian ship in December 2022, as claimed by a US diplomat, has established that a European company had in fact been uploading food onto the vessel."[59]

Both the South African and US governments sought to smooth relations following the publication of the inquiry.[54] The US government stated that it appreciated the South African government's interest in investigating the incident but made no comment on the finding of the inquiry.[56][54] The director of the African Defence Review, Darren Olivier, stated that the inquiry's findings raised "more questions than it answers" and that it was unlikely that it would close the issue.[55]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b O’Regan, Victoria (22 December 2022). "SHIPPING LANES: Lady R's cargo was an 'old order' for ammunition, Modise says, but remains tight-lipped on details". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e Helfrich, Kim (9 December 2022). "Mysterious Russian cargo ship Lady R exits Simon's Town". defenceWeb. Archived from the original on 9 December 2022. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  3. ^ a b c O’Regan, Victoria (9 December 2022). "SHIPS IN THE NIGHT: Russian vessel slips out of Simon's Town with still no official explanation". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  4. ^ a b c "South Africa loaded weapons onto Russian vessel, U.S. envoy says". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 11 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Mahlangu, Isaac (11 May 2023). "'Hostile' ANC ignores Washington attempts for dialogue: US ambassador to SA". timeslive.co.za. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023.
  6. ^ a b Davis, Rebecca (12 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM: Explainer: What we know about the explosive Russian ship scandal so far". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  7. ^ Solomons, Lisalee. "WATCH | No sign of the Lady R vessel in Simon's Town, SA Navy, SANDF still mum over cargo ship". News24. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  8. ^ a b c "South African MPs worried about their government's arming Russia". Yahoo News. 11 December 2022. Archived from the original on 23 December 2022. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  9. ^ "Tracking Lady R: the covert voyage that allegedly took South African arms to Russia". Financial Times. 14 May 2023. Archived from the original on 15 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  10. ^ a b Solomons, Nicole McCain and Lisalee. "No distress signal flagged for Russian ship that left as mysteriously as it berthed at SA naval base". News24. Archived from the original on 11 December 2022. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  11. ^ "Why so much secrecy around Russian vessel in Simons Town?". CapeTalk. Archived from the original on 22 January 2023. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  12. ^ Hussain, Vanessa Banton and Muhammad. "IN-DEPTH | #LadyRussiagate: Highly unlikely SA supplied weapons to Russia, say experts". News24. Archived from the original on 12 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  13. ^ O’Regan, Victoria (23 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM : In pictures — a whole lot of fokol being loaded on to the Lady R". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 5 July 2023.
  14. ^ Hendricks, Cheryl; Majozi, Nkululeko (10 February 2021). "South Africa's International Relations: A New Dawn?". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 56 (1) – via Sage Journals.
  15. ^ "Brigety: ANC hostile towards America". eNCA. 12 May 2023. Archived from the original on 13 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  16. ^ Fabricius, Victoria O’Regan and Peter (11 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM: US ambassador lashes out at ANC government for 'providing arms and ammunition to Russia'". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  17. ^ a b Did South Africa supply Russia with weapons?, DW News, 12 May 2023, archived from the original on 18 May 2023, retrieved 18 May 2023((citation)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  18. ^ a b c Fabricius, Peter (7 May 2023). "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The landing of a sanctioned Russian plane at Waterkloof undermines Mufamadi's US mission". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  19. ^ a b c "South African Army Chief Visits Moscow for Bilateral Talks". VOA. 15 May 2023. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  20. ^ Plessis, Carien du (18 February 2023). "South Africa's naval exercise with Russia, China raises Western alarm". Reuters. Archived from the original on 8 May 2023. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  21. ^ Chutel, Lynsey; Eligon, John (4 May 2023). "South Africa Allowed Russian Plane Under U.S. Sanctions to Land at Base". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 16 May 2023. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  22. ^ Fabricius, Peter (27 April 2023). "REALITY CHECK: Ramaphosa delegation in the US to persuade Washington not to drop SA's trade benefits". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  23. ^ "South Africa rejects US accusations of arms shipment to Russia". www.aljazeera.com. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  24. ^ Verster, Compiled by Jenna. "#LadyRussiagate: Independent inquiry to investigate claims that SA supplied arms to Russia – Presidency". News24. Archived from the original on 11 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  25. ^ "Government to establish inquiry into "Lady R" weapons allegations". SABC News. 11 May 2023. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  26. ^ "Presidency responds to claims of weapons supply to Russia made by the US Ambassador". www.gov.za. South African Government. 11 May 2023. Archived from the original on 15 May 2023. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  27. ^ a b "South Africa-US dispute escalates as Vladimir Putin calls Cyril Ramaphosa". Financial Times. 12 May 2023. Archived from the original on 13 May 2023. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  28. ^ Mntambo, Nokukhanya. "US ambassador apologises 'unreservedly' to SA over Russia allegations – Dirco". ewn.co.za. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  29. ^ Fabricius, Victoria O’Regan and Peter (13 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM: US rang the alarm bells in February about SA's alleged supply of arms to Russian cargo ship Lady R – Godongwana". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  30. ^ a b "South African army general in Moscow days after country accused of sending weapons to Russia". WREG.com. 15 May 2023. Archived from the original on 16 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  31. ^ Mabaso, Nhlanhla. "Ramaphosa calls Russia arms allegations a 'distasteful attack' on SA". ewn.co.za. Archived from the original on 18 May 2023. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  32. ^ a b Maliti, Soyiso. "#LadyRussiagate: Brigety 'launched distasteful attack' on SA, Ramaphosa tells ANC eThekwini members". News24. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  33. ^ Fabricius, Victoria O’Regan and Peter (13 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM: US rang the alarm bells in February about SA's alleged supply of arms to Russian cargo ship Lady R – Godongwana". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  34. ^ a b Madiba, Thabi (12 May 2023). "DA points to Russia funding ANC, calls for Modise's dismissal in weapons saga". Polity.org.za. Archived from the original on 16 May 2023.
  35. ^ Lekabe, Thapelo (12 May 2023). "'America is becoming a crybaby': Malema dismisses US claims of SA supplying weapons to Russia". The Citizen. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  36. ^ a b Helfrich, Kim (15 May 2023). ""Tell us what was loaded on the Lady R" – OUTA". defenceWeb. Archived from the original on 16 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  37. ^ Zeeman, Kyle (12 May 2023). "WATCH | 'America is just becoming a crybaby' — Malema weighs in on Russian weapon ship allegations". TimesLIVE. Archived from the original on 18 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  38. ^ Morgan, Kayleen. "'If guns were given to Russia it was a good thing' - Malema". ewn.co.za. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  39. ^ Lamb, Guy (16 May 2023). "Did South Africa sell arms to Russia? Only a series of unlikely scenarios could have made it possible". The Conversation. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  40. ^ "US allegations that South Africa shipped arms to Russia puts AGOA at risk - Agoa.info - African Growth and Opportunity Act". agoa.info. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  41. ^ Gopaldas, Ronak (15 May 2023). "ISS TODAY OP-ED: Lady R fallout — SA's perceived partisanship cloaked in neutrality may spell economic disaster". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  42. ^ Cotterill, Joseph (17 May 2023). "South Africa's flirtation with Moscow risks billions of dollars in US exports". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  43. ^ Haffajee, Ferial (11 May 2023). "COMRADES IN ARMS: Pro-Russia hawks in ANC likely to push back against US after ambassador's outburst". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  44. ^ a b Thukwana, Ntando (12 May 2023). "Rand rattled: New record low after US claims of SA-Russia arms". Moneyweb. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  45. ^ Ramela, Amo. "Inside EWN Roundtable: What's the cost of SA's relationship with Russia?". ewn.co.za. Archived from the original on 19 May 2023. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  46. ^ https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/fokol-on-russian-ship-minister-modise-sticks-to-her-guns-on-lady-r-saga-a1d3fb17-a400-4e19-b3be-f8bc0c9bfa04
  47. ^ Stone, Setumo (14 August 2023). "Brigety's Head on the Block Over Lady R Blunder". Sunday World. p. 1. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  48. ^ Basson, Adriaan (14 August 2023). "It's Simple: If Ambassador Brigety Lied About Lady R, He Should Go". News24. p. 1.
  49. ^ a b Ditabo, Malaika. "Russian embassy hits back at US ambassador's claims, saying ammunition unsuitable for its arms". News24. Archived from the original on 20 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  50. ^ a b "Zelensky holds phone call with South African President". Yahoo News. 14 May 2023. Archived from the original on 15 May 2023. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  51. ^ a b Fabricius, Peter (14 May 2023). "PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM: Ukraine President Zelensky warns Ramaphosa against selling arms to Russia". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  52. ^ "Three-member panel has six weeks to investigate Lady R affair". defenceweb.co.za. 29 May 2023. Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  53. ^ O’Regan, Victoria (3 September 2023). "Independent panel finds no evidence of arms loaded on to Lady R from South Africa, says President Ramaphosa". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  54. ^ a b c Cotterill, Joseph (4 September 2023). "Inquiry rejects US claims that South Africa supplied arms to Russia". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  55. ^ a b c O’Regan, Peter Fabricius and Victoria (7 September 2023). "UAE role in Lady R saga 'doesn't make sense', say experts". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  56. ^ a b "South Africa says inquiry finds no evidence of arms shipment to Russia". BBC News. 4 September 2023. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  57. ^ O’Regan, Victoria (3 September 2023). "Independent panel finds no evidence of arms loaded on to Lady R from South Africa, says President Ramaphosa". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  58. ^ a b c Magome, Mogomotsi (6 September 2023). "South Africa didn't know a US-sanctioned Russian ship carried its military purchases, inquiry finds". ABC News. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  59. ^ Mpofu, Thulani (9 August 2023). "Food, not guns were loaded onto Russian ship 'Lady R' in South Africa, inquiry finds". BNE Intellinews. p. 1.