Accusations of supplying arms to Russia have raised doubts about South Africa's neutral stance towards the Ukrainian conflict. These accusations have strained relations with the West, risking the loss of South Africa's duty-free access to the US market. The South African Reserve Bank has also expressed concern about potential censorship due to perceived closeness to Russia. In an interview with BizNews, veteran foreign affairs and diplomacy writer Jean Jacques Cornish warned the South African government not to underestimate the importance of the US government. People, he said, often say: "Don't poke a Russian bear, but he would say: "Don't stick your finger in the eye of an American eagle, because it will cause you a lot of trouble". Meanwhile.sources in Londonindicated that senior South African government officials had urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to move the summit to avoid Putin's dilemma. – Linda van Tilburg
Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 01:01 – Jean-Jacques Cornish takes us through his extensive CV
- 02:53 – Cornish on South Africa's failure to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine
- 06:33 – On the general feelings of the diplomatic community towards SA
- 10:29 - About SA's influence on Russia, or the lack of it, and Putin's possible visit at the upcoming BRICS summit
- 14:03 – About the limits of diplomatic immunity of BRICS participants
- 15:33 – About the probability of implementing sanctions against SA
- 18:23 – On the diplomatic reaction to the colloquial use of the term "fokol" by Defense Minister Thandi Modise when he talks about what was loaded on Lady R.
- 19:13 – About the probability of Russian President Vladimir Putin setting foot in the Republic of South Africa
- 20:37 – On President Ramaphosa's struggle to appease the West, compared to former presidents Mandela and Mbeki
- 22:34 – About the historical relationship of the USA and SA with America
- 25:10 – On the ANC government's diplomatic loss of moral superiority
Excerpts from the interview below
No news from the US on AGOA, the feeling in Washington SA is getting too much
The United States, you can't get them to say, well, this is going to affect the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, which gives free access to American markets for African goods from countries that have the stamp of approval of the United States, in other words, democracies, and PEPFAR, the fight against AIDS, which for the US is one of its most successful foreign policy initiatives. These are two areas we might want to keep an eye on.
It is most important at AGOA, at the trade one, which worries everyone the most. In a conversation with Welile Nhlap when he was ambassador to the United States, long before all this happened, he addressed the bipartisan sentiment, Democrats and Republicans, that South Africa was getting too much from AGOA. Many countries, Lesotho and others, come with, say, textiles or agricultural products, one or two things that they sell in the United States. We in South Africa sell loads of stuff and get a huge amount from PEPFAR and we are perfectly entitled to that. But there is a feeling inside Washington that we simply get too much and should be treated specially. So far we have avoided it. But it's possible that now, with these new distractions in the air, they might say, okay, well, we're going to have to look again at AGOA, which has nothing to do with the ship boarding in Simon's town, but the fact that you're actually getting too much of it. and that's not fair.
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South Africa has no stomach to arrest Putin
It is not surprising to give diplomatic immunity to visiting diplomats. Every diplomat in this country who is hosted here has diplomatic immunity. So when you have an international conference, a BRICS summit, for example, or whatever, anyone who attends that should have diplomatic immunity. I think it's a lot of wind without any very real substance. I see that the prosecutor, Glynnis Breitenbach, is trying to do something to try to force the government and that's what they did with Omar al-Bashir, they tried to force the South African authorities to detain him if he comes here... But there's no question I don't think he has the stomach for the arrest of Vladimir Putin if he came to South Africa. But I believe the diplomats in Moscow are trying very hard to say, what are we trying to do? We want to achieve something at the top. Do we want to disrupt the whole thing or do we want to cloud the whole thing with this incident? There would be no other story outside of BRICS, which is a development community, a development family that has many, many things they want to do and if they want to do them at our summit, they would be better off without Vladimir Putin there.
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Why is Russia afraid of Ukraine?
Russia got rid of those countries, but it cannot control them and should not be able to control them because they are independent countries. Russia is, of course, very, very afraid of Ukraine for political reasons, but for important geographical reasons. There are no mountains between Russia and Europe west of Russia. People like Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler could have decided to invade Russia and simply move across the territory and immigrate to Russia. If there were mountains where Ukraine is, Ukraine would be safe. Russia would have a natural border that they did not have. So they are very nervous about this. But the fact remains that they invaded an independent country and we as Africans, who take a moral stand on foreign policy, should have really condemned it and we didn't. The entire African bloc did not fail to condemn it, only some members, and we are one of them, unfortunately.
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There is no failed state in the world
I am often irritated by what they [Americans] do. How, for example, they dismiss countries they cannot deal with as so-called failed states, and failed states do not exist in the world, there is no such thing. Some countries fail in some things. In the case of the United States, if you said, well, there's this country that has mass murders of schoolchildren and innocent people every few weeks, and you never call it a failed country because that country is the United States. They call Africans and Asians and South Americans that they can't handle failed states. They do it incorrectly and maliciously. Like I said, there's enough to irritate me about. But I recognize the importance of this country for us. People often say, don't poke the bear, don't irritate Russia. I say don't stick your finger in the American eagle's eye because that will cause you a lot more trouble.
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