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US tries to influence South Africa to join Western coalition against Russia

US President Joe Biden discussed relations with Russia in a White House meeting with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday. Mr Ramaphosa has so far resisted joining Washington’s campaign against Moscow for the war in Ukraine.

President Biden, who has been at the forefront of an international coalition to punish Russian leader Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, wants South Africa’s help in efforts that include forcing Moscow to sell its oil at below-market rates.

🇿🇦 His Excellency President @CyrilRamaphosa arrives at the @WhiteHouse in Washington DC and is received by 🇺🇸 His Excellency President @JoeBiden of the United States in the Oval Room ahead of their bilateral meeting.#SAinUSA #BetterAfricaBetterWorld 🌍

— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) September 16, 2022

The two leaders spoke privately in the Oval Office for more than an hour on topics including “trade and investment and climate and energy,” the White House said in a press release.

“To this end, President Biden announced the creation of a South Africa-U.S. Investment Advisory Task Force and a planned USD 45 million investment toward the Just Energy Transition Partnership,” the White House added.

The additional US funding for the partnership comes at a time when declining natural gas and oil exports from Russia and Ukraine have boosted South African coal and set back decarbonisation goals for one of the world’s most carbon-intensive economies.

Meeting with President Biden, President Ramaphosa raised the issue of #sanctions on #Zimbabwe. He explained to President Biden that Zim sanctions affect other countries in the region as economic migrants are forced to leave #Zimbabwe in their droves to seek economic opportunities

— Peter Ndoro (@peterndoro) September 16, 2022

South Africa’s ties with Russia

Ramaphosa has resisted calls to directly criticize Russia, instead opposing the use of force generally. In March, he blamed NATO’s eastward expansion for creating instability and said the conflict should be solved through United Nations mediation rather than Western-led sanctions that hurt “bystander countries.”

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South Africa was one of 17 African countries to abstain from the UN vote condemning Russia’s assault.

“Our position on this is respected, it is known and recognised,” President Ramaphosa told reporters after the meeting. “Clearly the conflict has to be resolved. Our view is that it can best be resolved through dialogue and negotiations,” he added.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) party, which has governed South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994, had strong ties to the former Soviet Union, which trained and supported anti-apartheid activists.

However, South Africa still enjoys a high level of diplomatic clout among Russia’s rivals in the West relative to its economic size since its peaceful transition to democracy.

A bill passed by the US House of Representatives in April would boost US efforts to counter Russian influence in Africa.

War and inflation have pressured South Africa, where half of the population lived below the poverty line even before the war dried up Russia and Ukraine’s grain and fertilizer exports.

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