President Cyril Ramaphosa defends SA's decision to abstain from UN vote on Russian invasion

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: GCIS
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended SA's diplomatic stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Ramaphosa said the country abstained from a UN vote because it did not "foreground the call for meaningful engagement".
  • South Africa has been accused of fence-sitting for not naming Russia as the aggressor in the conflict.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended South Africa's stance that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine should be ended through mediation.

This comes after South Africa abstained from voting on a United Nations (UN) resolution on the escalating conflict last week, which received widespread criticism. Many described the decision as fence-sitting.

But in his weekly newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa said South Africa abstained because the resolution did not "foreground the call for meaningful engagement".

Namibia, Mozambique and Angola also abstained during the vote to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine, which demanded that Moscow withdraw its military forces. The action aims to isolate Russia diplomatically.

Ramaphosa said: 

Prior to the resolution being passed at the UN last week, talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials had already started. South Africa expected that the UN resolution would foremost welcome the commencement of dialogue between the parties and seek to create the conditions for these talks to succeed.

"Instead, the call for a peaceful resolution through political dialogue is relegated to a single sentence close to the conclusion of the final text. This does not provide the encouragement and international backing that the parties need to continue with their efforts," he said.

The president said the call for peaceful negotiation was aligned with the values upon which the UN was founded.

"We are particularly concerned that the UN Security Council was unable to discharge its responsibility to maintain peace and security. This gives impetus to the longstanding calls for the Security Council's reform to meet the challenges of the 21st Century," he said.

South Africa's position has been to affirm the UN Charter's call for member states to settle disputes by negotiation and mediation.

The government has received widespread criticism for its lack of a decisive stance against the Russian invasion. This includes the US, with the US Embassy in South Africa chargé d'affaires, Todd Haskell, calling on South Africa to take a stronger stance in its foreign policy.

READ | US Embassy urges SA to stop sitting on the fence over Russia-Ukraine conflict

Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova has also lashed out at the South African government and described the country's decision to abstain from the vote as "puzzling" and "unacceptable".

"There have been some who have said that in abstaining from the vote condemning Russia's military operation in Ukraine, South Africa has placed itself on the wrong side of history. Yet, South Africa is firmly on the side of peace at a time when another war is something the world neither needs, nor can afford.

Liubov Abravitova with Todd Haskell in Pretoria
Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova with US Embassy in South Africa chargé d'affaires, Todd Haskell in Pretoria.

"The results of these hostilities will be felt globally and for many years to come. A cessation of hostilities may indeed be achieved through force of arms or economic pressure, but it would be unlikely to lead to a sustainable and lasting peace," Ramaphosa said.

He added that South Arica drew on experience in ending apartheid through negotiation.

"As a country that attained democracy through a negotiated settlement, we remain steadfast in our conviction that achieving world peace through negotiation, and not force of arms, is indeed attainable. This is a principle on which we have been consistent since the advent of our democracy and which remains an important part of our foreign policy orientation," he said.

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