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German foreign minister poses challenge to South Africa over its position on Russian war effort

German foreign minister poses challenge to South Africa over its position on Russian war effort

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister on Tuesday called for Russia “to stop the bombing” of Ukraine, a pointed message during a visit to South Africa as it draws accusations of aiding Moscow’s war effort.

Annalena Baerbock’s challenge came during a one-day visit to Pretoria that had been framed largely as focused on energy and climate issues.

But South Africa’s position on the war in Ukraine has been under close scrutiny since U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety alleged that South Africa secretly loaded weapons onto a Russian ship that docked at a naval base near Cape Town in December.

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Those allegations sparked serious concerns among South Africa’s Western allies over its position on the war. U.S. lawmakers have even called for some kind of punishment for Africa’s most-developed economy for what they view as its pro-Russian stance.

The South African government says it is neutral in the war in Ukraine and denies that an arms shipment was sent to Russia. But South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered an investigation into the visit last year of the Lady R Russian cargo ship, which is under U.S. sanctions for allegedly transporting weapons for the Russian government.

Baerbock didn’t directly refer to the weapons allegations when making comments alongside South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor ahead of their meeting Tuesday. But she said that the rising food and oil prices that are sparking hardship across the African continent were the result of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“For this suffering to end, the war must end,” Baerbock said. “For the war to end, Russia must stop the bombing and withdraw its soldiers. This war is an attack on the U.N. charter, on the very rules that bind and protects us all.”

Pandor referred to the “very substantial” relationship between South Africa and Germany. Germany is South Africa’s third biggest trade partner behind China and the U.S.

“South Africa and Germany share many common values on matters of peace and security, human rights, climate change, sustainability and economic development,” Pandor said.

South Africa has scrambled to protect its international reputation and its relationships with Western partners following Brigety’s accusations in May.

The country also faces possible diplomatic peril in August that might further strain relationships with the West when it hosts a summit of the BRICS bloc of emerging economies that is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

South Africa has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the summit even though he is the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes over the abduction of children from Ukraine.

South Africa is a signatory to the ICC treaty and is obliged to arrest Putin should he set foot on the country’s territory, but has not committed to doing that.

A top official with South Africa’s ruling ANC party has said it would “welcome” Putin.

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