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South Africa - Relations with Moscow

During the Cold War Pretoria always claimed to believe, that the Soviet’s ultimate aim in Southern Africa was to install a puppet regime which, at Moscow’s behest, would close the Cape sea route to the west [and give control of South Africa’s mineral resources to the USSR, providing Moscow with a virtual world monopoly on various strategic and precious metals].

Pretoria severed diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1956, largely because of Moscow's support for the SACP. In 1964 the Soviet Union began to deliver arms to ANC military training camps in Tanzania, and this support continued through the early 1980s. By the early 1980s, Pretoria's former regional "buffer zone" against an enemy onslaught had become a hostile region of "front-line states" opposing Pretoria. South Africa's neighbors welcomed its dissidents, giving them political sanctuary and asylum, organizational headquarters, and military training facilities.

South Africa found itself the lone white-ruled state in an unstable region. Civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, exacerbated by large-scale foreign intervention, drew Pretoria into protracted regional conflicts. It confronted an influx of Soviet, Warsaw Pact, and Cuban armed forces and weaponry into the region, and saw mounting dissent within its own borders.

Pretoria launched periodic cross-border military operations in Angola against the Soviet- and Cuban-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola—MPLA) regime in Luanda. In addition, it launched frequent air and ground attacks on operational centers and training camps of liberation movements that supported the MPLA, including the ANC and SWAPO.

Then in 1986, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the idea of a revolutionary takeover in South Africa and advocated a negotiated settlement between Pretoria and its opponents. Officials from the two countries then sought improved commercial and diplomatic relations.

In July 1990, the South African mining conglomerate, De Beers Consolidated Mines, advanced a US$l-billion loan to the Soviet Union as part of an agreement for that company to serve as the exclusive exporter of Soviet rough diamonds. In August of that year, South Africa's minister of trade and industry, Kent Durr, visited Moscow to discuss possible South African assistance in the cleanup of the former Soviet nuclear site at Chernobyl.

In early 1991, the two countries agreed to open interest sections in the Austrian embassies in each other's capitals, and Pretoria appointed its first trade representative to Russia a year later. Diplomatic ties were established in February 1992, and the first ambassador to South Africa of the new Russian Federation arrived in Pretoria in December 1992. At the time, the two countries hoped to develop trade ties, especially in military hardware, although they were competitors in some areas of international arms trade.

Greg Mills and Sara Pienaar wrote [Nazdorovya? Russian-South African Defence and Technology Ties] "Given the extent of Soviet aid to the ANC, Nelson Mandela announced soon after his release from jail in 1990 that he would visit the USSR on his very first trip overseas to thank Moscow for its support. In the event, he only set foot on Russian soil on his very last official tour as president in 1999. This nine-year delay was the result of a growing divergence between the Russian Federation government and the ANC/SACP. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin’s Russia rapidly distanced itself from its links with the ANC and its allies. Instead, it started making overtures to South Africa’s last NP government, despite the fact that majority rule was quite clearly just around the corner in South Africa."

Russia constituted a small percentage of South Africa's total trade. The geographical distance between the two countries and high transportation costs make trade of many products, such as petroleum, cost-prohibitive. In 2008 it ranked as South Africa's 50th trading partner for exports and 34th for imports. Trade with Russia constituted only 0.2 percent of South Africa's total exports, and 0.8 percent of its total imports. Exports to Russia consisted mainly of vegetable products (50 percent), base metals (13 percent), and machinery and mechanical appliances (11 percent). Imports were dominated by mineral products, mostly the nickel group of minerals, accounting for 78 percent of South African imports from Russia.

By 2010 Russia and South Africa had identified each other as important emerging economies, but bilateral trade flows remained minimal. Foreign direct investment between the two countries lingered behind South Africa's other major economic partners. South Africa has shifted its trade diplomacy towards South-South relations and Russia remained dedicated to its neighbors in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia was part of South Africa's push to deepen ties with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, but South Africa remained focused on India and Brazil, as part of the IBSA forum, and on China, as South Africa's most rapidly growing economic partner.

South African investment in Russia is dominated by a handful of multinationals, including AngloAmerican, Standard Bank, De Beers, JCI, and Barloworld. SAB Miller produces several Russian brands, including three of the top ten. Russian investment in South Africa is still larger than South Africa's investment in Russia. But the level of crime and the energy shortages in South Africa discouraged future Russian investment.

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Page last modified: 02-01-2017 19:48:34 ZULU