Russian President Vladimir Putin is turning to South Africa for help after his tit-for-tat agricultural sanctions against the U.S. and European Union made cheese, fruit, some dairy products and meat disappear from local supermarkets, News24 reports.
Deluged with bad publicity over the intensifying war in Ukraine in which Russia has been branded the aggressor, Putin made time to receive South African President Jaocb Zuma last week.
Zuma’s six-day visit to Russia was described by news media as a mysterious mission and shrouded in secrecy. CityPress said the details of his visit were not revealed.
About 20 percent of what Russians eat is imported, and the country is now turning to friendly Latin American countries and South Africa for help, the report said.
Zuma’s office said he “requested support” from Russia for South Africa’s peacekeeping efforts in Africa, including the interim standby force — the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), whose creation was spearheaded by Zuma.
It’s likely that South Africa wanted Russia to help with strategic airlifts for the planned intervention force, said André Roux, a senior researcher in the Training For Peace Program at the Institute for Security Studies.
“Russia has a big strategic fleet that can provide airlift,” Roux said in the News24 report. “They have massive capacity to spare.”
This includes a large fleet of Antonov 124 and Ilyushin 76 aircraft.
Zuma went to Russia with only his State Security Minister, David Mahlobo, and Deputy International Relations Minister, Nomaindia Mfeketo — an unusually small retinue for a long visit to an important ally, CityPress said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also promised military assistance to the African Union peacekeeping forces in August, but in terms of strategic relations and ideology, South Africa is closer to Russia than the U.S., according to the News24 report.
The Russians are also concerned about China because, although China is a BRICS ally, China is also Russia’s biggest competitor in Africa, Roux said.
China does not have the equipment to provide the type of military assistance Russia can, according to News24.
Roux said South Africa had an intelligence-sharing agreement with Russia that could be used during interventions or peacekeeping operations.
Zuma is one of Putin’s most frequent visitors, CityPress reports. This is his fifth trip to Russia. The two leaders also met in Brazil in July at the BRICS summit.
Zuma’s Russia visit was a surprise for South African and Russian journalists.
An official at the Russian Embassy in Pretoria declined to discuss details of the visit. “For now, we do not comment on Zuma’s visit to Russia,” he said.
Some political analysts said Zuma went to Russia to take a break and have a rest. The Nkandla scandal, so-called spy tapes being demanded by the Democratic Alliance and deep cracks in the ANC are putting Zuma is under intense pressure, said Political Analyst Steven Friedman in an eNCAnews video.