How Ukraine views SA’s arms-to-Russia scandal, offering Putin immunity, claimed “non-aligned” status

Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa has been waiting six months for an audience with the country’s Defence Minister to hear what happened with the Russian vessel Lady R, the alleged recipient of SA arms to Russia. Ambassador Luibov Abravitova remains hopeful on that, as she does about SA’s ability to recognise it’s impossible to be “non-aligned” on the UN Charter – or on granting immunity to international war criminals. It’s a fascinating interview by the Ukrainian diplomat charged with one of her country’s most challenging assignments. She reminds us that Ukraine and South Africa have a long history of cooperation, and both are young democracies (Ukraine in 1991; SA in 1994) that sacrificed much for their freedom. Also, they both voluntarily gave up their nuclear arsenal, which, in Ukraine’s instance, the world’s third largest, was and in return for supposedly rock-solid sovereign nation protection guarantees from the US, UK, and Russia. She spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.

Watch here

Timestamps below

  • 01:02 – Luibov Abravitova on the start of the war 15 months ago and if it was a surprise to the Ukrainians
  • 03:05 – On how much of a democracy is Ukraine 
  • 05:44 – On how Ukraine is dealing with the fact that a democratic country like SA is aligning itself with Russia
  • 10:19 – On the arms to Russia scandal
  • 12:58 – On Putin’s diplomatic immunity 
  • 15:44 – On SA’s position of political non-alignment in the war
  • 18:25 – On the notorious mercenary group Wagner organisation operating in Ukraine and around various parts of Africa
  • 20:12 – On how the war is going from a Ukrainian perspective
  • 29:35 – End

Listen here

How democratic is Ukraine?

I love to answer this question because every day, the answer is more profound and very obvious. Since 2014, we have been showing to the world and proving that democracy in Ukraine is not an empty sound, that the people have their voice, and that they have a right to raise this voice. We have been going through a series of different reforms internally. Why? Ironically, because of our aspiration to become EU and NATO members, in order to become members of this organisation or alliance, you have to meet certain standards. And it’s not only about the standards of democracy, it’s about corruption, and it was a big issue for Ukraine.

So we still have been going through those reforms. I like to answer this question because a big modified story about [the] justification of the Russian invasion was the ‘Nazi story’ in Ukraine. So for our and your esteemed audience; Ukraine has a huge number of different political parties, if I’m not mistaken, more than 300. Obviously, not all of them are able to reach that volume that they can become members of our parliament. So you assume that you have different parties, left and right, liberal and conservative, but you will never find in our history when we would have the far right or right party in parliament. And that would be my answer to the predictable question that you would write.  

Read more: Paranoid Putin is packing for Pretoria, but Russia has little to offer South Africa

How Ukraine is dealing with the fact that a democratic country like South Africa is aligning itself with Russia

It’s as complicated as it is easy. And the answer is in your question. Both countries are democracies. Moreover, we are democracies of approximately the same age. Ukraine regained independence in 1991, and that’s when we started to build our democracy. Same thing with SA in 1994. It’s not an empty sound that we have a long-standing relationship between Ukraine and South Africa. Ukraine was a very crucial part of the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa.

A lot of ANC leaders and veterans were raised and taken care [of] and trained in Crimea, which, as you know, is Ukraine. And so we are today fighting exactly for the same values that South Africa was fighting at that time. And basically, we are fighting for our freedom. And the meaning of freedom is something that you cannot not aligned to, as well as, that you cannot not be aligned with the United Nations charter. I am bringing you closer to the next anticipated question, but indeed it is a very unique situation when the independent democratic country is being invaded and the open-scale invasion that is happening. It’s not only about the military damage that it’s causing in the occupied areas. It’s about the violation of sovereignty, of territorial integrity. It’s about killing civilian people. It’s about one autocracy ordering its soldiers to kill and rape women and children.

Read more: SA granting diplomatic immunity to BRICS attendees – Still legally obliged to arrest Putin

On the arms-to-Russia scandal

I would allow myself on this issue to stay diplomatic and tell you that we do see the news. But we also acknowledge that President Ramaphosa appointed the independent investigation, and we are looking forward to the results. As soon as it comes out, we will be able to react and discuss. Yet it is on the level of intelligence and other investigative groups to deal with that. We don’t have this type of information available at the embassy.

Read more: Ramaphosa deploys envoys to explain SA’s Russia stance

On Putin’s diplomatic immunity

There are separate tracks here, so the summit that is happening or any other summit that will be happening in the future. We’ll assume that South Africa will provide immunity to the attendees. We have a unique situation where an International Criminal Court issued a lifelong warrant to arrest Putin, not just for nothing but for documented and brutal facts. Or actually what you call a genocide against Ukraine when you are deliberately taking Ukrainian children from the occupied territories and taking them in the unknown direction in Russia and keeping that in total secrecy, and this has been documented, then this is real genocide.

This is how you eliminate the independent sovereign state, a nation. You’re just stealing children and that’s why the warrant was issued and South Africa finds itself in a position where it is a signatory to the Rome Statute. And according to this, it has certain obligations. This is the issue for international lawyers to give a clear explanation of when and how internal law can prevail over international law. But it seems to me that announcing immunities to all the participants is not unwilling or removing the obligation that exists according to international law. That’s why there’s so much discussion about this. And it is a big conundrum. 

Read also: