'We've made it clear that Russia is a friend': Pandor doubles down on SA's Ukraine stance

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  • International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor has doubled down on South Africa's friendship with Russia.
  • She described Russia as "an old historical friend".
  • Pandor co-chaired the South Africa-Russia Joint Inter-Governmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation in Pretoria on Thursday.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor says South Africa has defended its friendship with Russia, saying the two countries will not become sudden enemies "on the demand of others".

Pandor was speaking at the opening of the South Africa-Russia Joint Inter-Governmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation with Russian National Resources and Environment Minister Alexander Kozlov in Pretoria on Thursday.

"There are some who don't wish us to have relations with an old historical friend. We have made it clear that Russia is a friend, and we have had cooperative partnerships for many, many years," Pandor said.She cited Russia's support in the anti-apartheid struggle.

"While we are friends with many all over the world, we cannot become sudden enemies on the demand of others," Pandor said.

READ | 'Will SA arrest Putin?' ATM wants clarity from govt on ICC warrant against Russian president

Pretoria has doubled down on its relations with Moscow amid growing calls to isolate Russia following its deadly invasion of Ukraine. South Africa has maintained its non-aligned stance on the matter, refusing to cut ties with Russia despite pleas from Western countries.

Last week, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib threw a few veiled jabs at South Africa's non-aligned foreign policy on Ukraine.

During official talks, she said Belgium had "always looked up to South Africa as a key partner for peace and the defence of human rights and basic international principles, so given your strong historical links with Russia, we would be delighted if you consider using your channels of communication to advance on a path towards peace based on the international principles".

At the time, President Cyril Ramaphosa responded, saying that it would continue promoting peace.

"Yes, indeed we do and continue to use the channel we have with Russia to talk peace. To talk about how the conflict can be brought to an end. You can rest assured – as other heads of state have raised with us – we do take up the opportunity to advocate for a peaceful [solution]," Ramaphosa said.

South Africa digging in its heels over its friendship with Russia comes as there's a growing expectation that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be arrested if he arrives in South Africa for the BRICS summit in August. 

READ MORE | From rockets to tanks: How the West armed Ukraine

The South African government has requested a legal opinion on how to address the arrest warrant that the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued against Putin on 18 March for alleged war crimes relating to the abduction of children from Ukraine.

South Africa will host the BRICS summit and, as a signatory of the Rome Statute, may be required to execute the arrest warrant if Putin attends the summit.

In the meeting with the Russians on Thursday, Pandor highlighted South Africa's long-standing diplomatic relations with Russia.

Formal diplomatic relations between Russia and South Africa were established in February 1992.

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