South Africa-Russia Relations: Assessing the Impact of the Ukrainian War


South Africa and Russia have enjoyed a strong and enduring relationship that dates back to the Soviet era. Their partnership has been based on mutual political, economic, and strategic interests. Both countries are members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) grouping, which has played an essential role in promoting South-South cooperation and addressing global challenges. However, the Ukrainian War has complicated the dynamics of this relationship, as South Africa faces the challenge of balancing its partnership with Russia while addressing the geopolitical implications of the conflict. This comprehensive report examines the history of South Africa-Russia relations, the impact of the Ukrainian War on their relationship, and the potential future trajectory of this partnership.

  1. Historical Background

South Africa’s relationship with Russia can be traced back to the anti-apartheid struggle when the Soviet Union provided support and assistance to the African National Congress (ANC). Post-apartheid, South Africa and Russia established diplomatic relations in 1992, and their bilateral cooperation has grown significantly over the years. They have signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding in fields such as trade, energy, defense, and science and technology.

  1. BRICS and Multilateral Cooperation

South Africa’s accession to BRICS in 2010 further strengthened its ties with Russia. The BRICS platform has enabled the two countries to collaborate on global issues such as trade, climate change, and international peace and security. They have also cooperated within the United Nations framework, where both nations have called for the reform of international institutions, including the UN Security Council.

  1. Economic and Trade Relations

Trade between South Africa and Russia has grown steadily, with a focus on sectors such as mining, energy, and agriculture. Russian investment in South Africa has primarily been in the mining sector, with companies like Norilsk Nickel and Renova Group having significant interests in the country. South Africa has also explored the possibility of procuring nuclear power from Russia, although this deal has faced several delays and controversies.

  1. Impact of the Ukrainian War

The ongoing war in Ukraine has put South Africa in a delicate position. While the South African government has expressed concern over the conflict and called for a peaceful resolution, it has not directly condemned Russia’s actions. This cautious approach may stem from the country’s long-standing relationship with Russia and its reliance on Russian investments in key sectors of its economy.

The Ukrainian War has also raised concerns about the future of BRICS, given the tensions between Russia and the West. As a result, South Africa may find itself caught between its BRICS obligations and the need to maintain good relations with its Western partners.

  1. Future Trajectory

As the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, South Africa’s relationship with Russia is likely to face increased scrutiny and challenges. While the historical ties and shared interests will continue to bind the two countries, South Africa may need to navigate the geopolitical complexities carefully. This could involve adopting a more nuanced approach to its partnership with Russia, while also engaging with other global powers to maintain a balanced foreign policy.


South Africa-Russia relations have a strong foundation based on historical ties and shared interests. However, the Ukrainian War presents a complex challenge for their partnership. Going forward, South Africa will need to strike a delicate balance between maintaining its relationship with Russia and addressing the geopolitical implications of the conflict. This will require a nuanced and strategic approach that takes into account the country’s long-term interests and its position within the international community.

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