SA-Russia relationship: South Africa is handcuffed to a losing horse – Dr Colin P. Clarke

South Africa is betting on a losing horse with its backing of Russia – and will face consequences for a foreign policy that “accommodates Moscow and other rogue regimes”. This warning comes from Dr. Colin P. Clarke, the Director of Research at the Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy based in New York. He speaks to BizNews about the likely consequences of a continued SA-Russia “alliance”; the African National Congress (ANC) government’s failure to combat terror financing on its soil; a possible threat of misinformation leading to violence around next year’s national elections; and the  “commercial and monetary” advantages of repairing its relationship with the US. – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:25 -Dr Colin P. Clarke on the current relationship between South Africa and the USA
  • 01:14 – Dr Clarke on the African delegation’s visit to Ukraine
  • 02:15 – On the US ambassador’s claims that SA dealt arms to Russia
  • 03:11 – On what Russia has to offer South Africa
  • 04:02 – On the possible US policy ramifications for SA due to its relationship with Russia
  • 04:45 – On the likelihood of the USA imposing sanctions on SA
  • 05:47 – On the possibility of foreign interference in South Africa’s 2024 national election
  • 07:12 – On what SA government the USA would like to see in power
  • 08:44 – On claims of the US meddling in the affairs of African countries
  • 10:22 – On why the USA sees itself as a policer of the actions of other countries
  • 11:38 – On the benefits of a repaired relationship between SA and the USA
  • 12:43 – On the rise of terrorist group funding in South Africa
  • 13:20 – On why SA government has been unable to combat terrorism funding
  • 13:56 – On reasons why SA is grey-listed
  • 14:42 – On the relationship between G7 and BRICS nations, and the current geopolitical landscape
  • 16:05 – On what he would advise the SA government
  • 17:12 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

“…I would just say this to the government in South Africa. You’re betting on a losing horse when you cast your lot with the Kremlin and with Moscow because…if you just look at the way that Russian military forces are behaving in Ukraine, not only are they drastically underperforming from a military perspective…but moreover, they’re committing…clear crimes on a regular basis against Ukrainian civilians. And so…the government of South Africa is hitching its wagon to a loser.”

Commenting on the recent “African Peace Mission” by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders to the Ukraine, Dr Clarke says: “I think some of the behaviour that we witnessed was quite shameful; that the South African delegation denied even a missile strike on Ukrainian territory the day that it occurred and was clear for all to see. So I’m not sure what the end game is there. I think it’s incredibly myopic and short-sighted.”

Read more: Russian war games: Putin wounded by Prigozhin’s failed rebellion – Professor Abel Esterhuyse

Dr Clarke urges the South African government to be “very deliberate in thinking about this…and be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And that includes, you know, being handcuffed to the Russians as your kind of foreign policy partner for the foreseeable future. Not a country when you look at demographics, when you look at their economy, that I would necessarily want to put my chips all in on.”

Asked what South Africa could expect from Russia in return for its loyalty, Dr Clarke says: “…if you just look at the behaviour of (President Vladimir) Putin and the regime, it really has very few friends left in the world. I wouldn’t want to be among the rogue’s gallery of the North Koreans and Belarusians of the world and Syria that still consider themselves a close ally of Moscow.” 

As to how severely the US could punish South Africa for its pro-Russia stance, Dr Clarke says: “… we have conversations with folks in Washington…South Africa is doing itself no favours in this regard. And there’s a number of other issues, I think, that are left unresolved that South Africa is grappling with internally that it could use help with and certainly doesn’t need to endure any kind of economic sanctions or other penalties when it’s struggling to get certain aspects of society up and running…I think it largely depends on the behaviour of the current government.”

Read more: RW Johnson: Implications for SA of a suddenly fragile Putin; Ramaphosa bombing in Paris

On the possibility of foreign interference in South Africa’s national elections next year, Dr Clarke says: “I would always be concerned, no matter where the election is taking place, but particularly in South Africa as the stakes are high, as there’s the potential not only for disinformation, but for rumours and misinformation that could lead to potential political violence surrounding the election.”

Listing the benefits South Africa could expect if its government repaired the relationship with the US, he says: “…I think many people in the United States see Africa as the future…and I would say that extends…especially to the business community, to multinational corporations that look at the demographics in Africa and the opportunities there for a Continent that’s exploding with young, smart, innovative people that are now connected by technology. 

“So I think there’s a lot of commercial and monetary advantages in that sense. Not that that’s the be all and end all, but I do think that in many ways, Sub-Saharan Africa is the future and South Africa is a leader in that part of the world. I see a real kind of crossroads here for decisions that are being made for where that position is in the country five, 10 years, 15 years down the road.”

Read more: Prof Piet Croukamp: ANC’s illogical Russian obsession – follow the money, honey

Dr Clarke points to the other big contentious issue between the US and South Africa as the government’s failure to counter the financing of terrorism on its soil. “We’ve noticed funds have been sent by financiers operating in the Horn of Africa to South Africa. And the government has really done a poor job, in my estimation, of cracking down on well-known terrorist financiers, again, including some with links to the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. So it’s a real problem.”

Asked why he thought that the South African government is failing to combat terrorist financing on its soil,  Dr. Clarke says: “It’s likely a combination of will, political will, which is just lacking in that area, but also capacity. I think it takes a lot to implement and enforce a lot of these laws. And so building partner capacity and counter threat financing, counter terrorism financing is critical…if there is a kind of…another major terrorist offensive in the coming years…it would be really bad for some of these funds to be linked back to South Africa.”

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