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South Africa’s Self-Defeating Silence on Ukraine

Authors: Eusebius McKaiser, Sasha Polakow-Suransky 

Affiliation: Political analyst and Author (Based in Johannesburg), Deputy Editor at Foreign Policy

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy

Date/Place: March 21, 2022 / USA

Type of Literature: Opinion Article 

Word Count: 2133



Keywords: South Africa, Russia, Foreign Policy, War 



The authors explain the reasons behind the silence that South Africa has long had when it comes to condemning Russia for any violation it makes. Even in the face of open hostility, South Africa seems to be motivated by an urge for noninterference, and they contradict themselves as its leaders are repeating Russian security justifications that were previously used by South Africa’s segregation state to justify action against surrounding nations. South Africa said that the UN General Assembly’s resolution criticizing Russia’s incursion was written in such a way that it hindered productive discussion, which is why it abstained; South African officials believed that rather than bringing the parties closer together, the wording would exacerbate the issue. Morality is hardly ever the driving force behind a country’s foreign policy, and South Africa is no different, although South Africa has often played the role of the Human Rights advocate. South Africa has set a higher standard for itself, and failing to remain committed to it threatens damaging its worldwide reputation. The authors mention a few cases where South Africa didn’t maintain its reputation, and that South Africa’s actions are disguised as nostalgia rather than realpolitik. One of the reasons that South Africa is loyal to Russia is because of the old help and support it received before. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has justified Russia’s invasion by stating that the conflict might have been prevented if NATO had listened to warnings from within its leaders. The South African government claims that it is a great negotiator, but Russia’s present posture on Ukraine does not allow for the kind of dialogue that Ramaphosa anticipates. Ramaphosa’s negotiating template is unable to be applied to Ukraine, and South Africa is just muting its response to Russia’s actions.  

Critical Commentary: The authors dismiss the idea that South Africa is a significantly weaker and smaller country than Russia, and that any decision that the president of South Africa makes against Russia would harm South Africa in many different aspects. Although they mention that morality isn’t what moves the foreign policy of any state, they yet apply this standard against South Africa and criticize its president for not risking his nation’s security. The authors’ comparison of South Africa’s foreign policy to Russia’s is an unreasonable comparison because Russia is one of the most powerful military powers and is seen as a hegemon while South Africa is not one of the most effective countries in foreign affairs. Additionally, the writers don’t give enough evidence or explanation to show why South Africa would act negatively and not have a clear decision on condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 


By: Zeina Akif, CIGA Research Intern



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