Thandi Modise says visit to Russia by army chief had nothing to do with war in Ukraine

South Africa has military to military relations with Russia. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives.

South Africa has military to military relations with Russia. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives.

Published Jul 22, 2023


Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise has dismissed suggestions that a recent trip by army chief Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha to Russia is linked to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Instead the visit, she said, was to strengthen South Africa's military relations with Moscow.

Mbatha’s trip to Russia, according to the Minister, is similar to recent trips made to Sweden and India.

It comes a few months after US ambassador Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of selling arms to Moscow.

But this was later denied by International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor to summon Brigety to her office.

The department said Brigety had apologised for his remarks.

Pandor also had discussions with US Secretary of State Antony Binken.

Modise, who was replying to a written parliamentary question from IFP MP Inkosi Russel Cebekhulu, said the visit was not related to the war in Ukraine.

“The timing of the visit is not related to the ongoing regional conflict in Europe, but part of solidifying the existing security and defence relationships with global partners and this visit was preceded by similar trips to India and Sweden. Russia has been hosting the annual International Army Games over the years, of which the SANDF consistently participates as part of military cooperation,” said Modise.

She said Mbatha had been invited by Russia as part of the bilateral agreement between the two countries.

“The chief of the South African army visited the Russian Land Force Commander at the invitation of the host as part of the bilateral agreement between the Republic of South Africa and the Russian Federation. The purpose of the visit was to foster and maintain military to military relations, exchange of information and to enhance the existing military cooperation in areas of mutual interests and benefits, such as education and training, professional staff exchanges and participation in joint and multinational exercises. The visit was also intended to extend the existing military cooperation between the Russian Federation and RSA,” said Modise.

A few weeks after Mbatha’s visit to Russia, a large delegation of the South African military visited the US.

The 20-strong delegation was led by acting Secretary for Defence Dr Thobekile Gamede and Chief of Staff of the Defence Force Lt-Gen. Michael Ramantswana.

They attended the 19th SA-US Defence Committee meeting which focused on military to military cooperation between the two countries.

The committee was formed by late Defence Minister Joe Modise and former US Secretary of Defence William Cohen in 1997.

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