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

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A girl fleeing the conflict in Ukraine looks on from inside of a bus heading to the Moldovan capital Chisinau, after crossing the Moldova-Ukraine border checkpoint near the town of Palanca.
A girl fleeing the conflict in Ukraine looks on from inside of a bus heading to the Moldovan capital Chisinau, after crossing the Moldova-Ukraine border checkpoint near the town of Palanca.
  • The US Embassy in South Africa has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration to take a tougher stance on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 
  • The embassy's chargé d'affaires, Todd Haskell, has cautioned by attempting to be neutral, South Africa was inadvertently supporting the aggressor. 
  • The call by the embassy comes as high-level talks between US President Joe Biden and Ramaphosa continue.

The US has called on South Africa to desist from sitting on the fence and name the aggressor in the war in Ukraine. 

Addressing the media from Pretoria on Thursday, US Embassy chargé d'affaires Todd Haskell quoted the words of struggle icon Desmond Tutu, saying: "In the fight between the oppressor and the oppressed, choosing not to take sides is taking the side of the oppressor." 

Haskell said it was important for Africans to have a voice when Russia was choosing to trample on the democracy of its neighbour, Ukraine. 

He added Tutu's words inspired him as a young man and he hoped they would also continue to inspire many Africans to speak out against Russia. 

The embassy's call for South Africa to take a stronger stance comes as high-level engagements between US President Joe Biden and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mary Catherine Phee continue with President Cyril Ramaphosa and International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor. 

Haskell said the US was rigorously engaging South Africa to sway it into taking a tougher stance against Russia. 

READ Russia's invasion of Ukraine: Ambassador 'puzzled' by SA's decision to abstain during UN vote

"I can speak most intelligently about South Africa because I am living here now, and there have been frequent high-level engagements between the secretary and the minister, between both of the presidents. This is because of the real recognition that Africans are playing a larger and larger role in internal politics." 

He added South Africa's hesitance in calling out Russia for its invasion of Ukraine was in itself not a neutral stance, but taking a side. 

Phee, who also addressed the briefing virtually from Washington, warned Covid-19 had shown the world an event in one area could affect the rest of the world. 
We are a globalised world, and this invasion affects all of us. Let’s be clear about what we are looking at; we are looking at an unprovoked attack by Russia against Ukraine, it’s a war against democracy, and this could happen to any country. Calling it out now ensures that it does not happen in another region.

Her comments come after a host of African countries, including South Africa, chose to abstain from a UN General Assembly vote on Wednesday.

It voted that Russia should immediately withdraw all its troops from Ukraine. 

Also addressing the media at the same briefing, Ukrainian Ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova explained why it was important to have a more united and resolute stance against Russia's invasion. 

Abravitova said a united show of disapproval through economic and other sanctions would "force the people of Russia, particularly those who keep electing this government and president, to contemplate whether they wanted to remain under such autocratic conditions that have left them economically cut out".

"They [Russian citizens] would understand that the dozens of soldiers that they are losing are someone's father and sons, and maybe they would rise up against [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. 

"The sanctions are not to punish them or support Ukraine but to ensure that internally there is also pressure from Russia's citizens on Putin's administration." 

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She cautioned Putin's actions were unpredictable as he could be "arming his nuclear weapons against the whole world". 

"This is why we are saying we need to stay strong and united in our response with all the African countries."

Abravitova said the Ukraine Embassy was in advanced talks with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to seek refuge for its citizens who have been trapped outside Ukraine since the start of the war. 

"Such requests are done through diplomatic challenges. The Ukraine Embassy requested through Dirco [Department of International Relations and Cooperation] that South Africa receive those citizens who would want to come without documentation, especially those stuck on the African continent since the invasion started."

"Moreover, those Ukrainian citizens who are staying in South African now and whose visas are expiring, we have asked that they also receive some assistance from the SA government.

"We have also called for Ukrainian workers in South Africa who would want to bring their families and be reunited to be afforded the chance to do so. 

"Also, there are a lot of other issues that are arising in terms of legislation and immigration.

"There needs to be an understanding that the infrastructure was completely destroyed, even the facilities for making passports were completely destroyed and people who have their passports [that are] not valid anymore have to be accommodated," she added.

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