Nuclear Enrichment: Russia’s Ill-Fated Influence Campaign in South Africa


Amid a widespread courtesy a Kremlin’s new inroads in Africa have attracted, there has been surprisingly tiny contention of South Africa, a nation which, for scarcely a decade, positively represented Russia’s biggest unfamiliar routine success story on a continent. As family soared during a unfortunate presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009–2018), a Kremlin sought to wring a geopolitically poignant state out of a West’s circuit and to emanate a partnership that could offer as a springboard for stretched change elsewhere in Africa.

Moscow’s plan was multifaceted, capitalizing on timeless tighten ties with Zuma, a former African National Congress comparison comprehension executive with endless Soviet confederation connections. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other comparison officials followed a array of initiatives, such as a inclusion of South Africa in a BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) organisation and a launch of desirous forms of team-work between state-backed ardour interests essentially in a arch sector.

Yet family were undermined by a Kremlin’s inclination to overreach, to gaunt too heavily on a bequest of Cold War–era family fake with leaders of inhabitant ransom movements, and to take advantage of cultures of corruption. The debate opening from a vast $76 billion arch ardour plant construction understanding triggered clever pushback and authorised hurdles from South Africa’s institutional checks and balances, polite multitude groups, and eccentric media.

Key collection of a Russian inhabitant confidence investiture perspective polite arch ardour exports as an vicious apparatus for lifted change abroad while formulating income streams for nutritious egghead and technical capabilities and vicious programs inside Russia itself. Yet such team-work is mostly a two-edged sword. On a one hand, dear projects such as a one pushed by Zuma typically make tiny mercantile clarity for a purchasing country, spurring disturbed questions about who stands to benefit. On a other hand, heavily subsidized projects followed generally for geopolitical reasons risk saddling Russia’s arch ardour corner Rosatom with burdens it can ill afford.

Ongoing investigations of high-level crime during a duration of supposed state constraint underneath Zuma strew conspicuous light on how a Kremlin operates in Africa and other collection of a world. In retrospect, a sustainability of Moscow’s welcome of South Africa was rarely argumentative due to a insignificant apparatus kit. Russian impasse in a South African economy is miniscule compared to that of other trade partners such as a EU, China, a United States, India, and a UK, accounting for a tiny 0.4 percent of South Africa’s unfamiliar trade. While a Soviet Union was an vicious enthusiast during a anti-apartheid struggle, modern-day Russia offers tiny in a proceed of unsentimental assistance for assisting South Africa understanding with a deep-set mercantile and executive challenges.


This announcement is formed on investigate upheld by a United States European Command, with additional support from C5 Capital. The views and conclusions contained in this ask are those of a authors and should not be interpreted as representing a executive polices, possibly demonstrate or implied, of a U.S. government.


Over a past eighteen months, a Kremlin’s gains in Africa have captivated widespread attention. Curiously, South Africa occasionally facilities in these accounts. Yet, for scarcely a decade, it was one of Russia’s biggest unfamiliar routine success stories. Why are Russia’s new inroads in South Africa (and a thespian reversals that followed) being overlooked, and what do they exhibit about a efficacy of Moscow’s broader plan and altogether apparatus pack on a continent?

The Kremlin mostly takes advantage of cultures of corruption, and, to a certain extent, a efforts in South Africa fit this broader pattern. The high-water symbol for Russia–South Africa family occurred during Jacob Zuma’s presidency (2009–2018), that was injured by a array of crime scandals ordinarily described by South Africans as a duration of “state capture.” Yet Russian rendezvous with South Africa during a Zuma epoch was some-more deeply rooted. It relied on a web of family during a tip levels of both governments, a graduation of multi-billion-dollar projects involving state-owned companies utterly in a ardour sector, and a leveraging of Cold War–era ties fake during South Africa’s duration of inhabitant liberation.

In a end, many of what went wrong for Russia was a covenant to South Africa’s remarkably clever complement of institutional checks and balances. Zuma’s excesses, that led to his abdication underneath vigour in Feb 2018, generated a clever pushback from several quarters. South Africa’s antithesis domestic system, polite society, judiciary, and news media served as stubborn champions of weight and transparency. South Africans, from vantage points inside and outward of government, closely scrutinized Russian activities, meticulously documented them, and launched a array of domestic and authorised hurdles in response. Their ability to plea a argumentative conduct of state stands as a absolute instance for policymakers elsewhere on a continent and in other collection of a universe who are contending with Russian assail activities.

As Carnegie’s Paul Stronski has written, Russia is decidedly “late to a party” in Africa.1 Its gains have been mostly in renegade states ostracized by a ubiquitous community, such as Zimbabwe, and strategically reduction vicious ones, like a Central African Republic, from that other critical powers have mostly disengaged. Moscow has clinging comparatively few resources to expanding a change in Africa compared to other critical outmost actors such as a European Union (EU), a United States, and China. But it has regularly demonstrated a knack for swelling narratives about Moscow’s resurgence as a heading ardour and fostering a clarity that a accomplishments on a continent have come during a responsibility of a United States and a allies.

Yet it is utterly distinguished how, time and again, a Russian care has opted for imagery over piece and a unchanging hostility to tackle any of a issues atop a agendas of many African countries—issues like mercantile development, peculiarity of governance, a order of law, community violence, dispute resolution, and open health concerns including spreading diseases. The Kremlin’s medium ability to plan troops ardour and low ardour for risk in Africa have meant that a confidence activities have been mostly parceled out to a rogues’ gallery of murky mercenaries and contractors such as a Wagner Group.2

Moscow’s try to secure a foothold in South Africa was rather of a depart from a common proceed to a continent. In new years, Russian inroads in Africa have been mostly a product of opportunism rather than critical vision. Unlike some other African states with a considerably increasing Russian participation in new years, South Africa represented a critical event for a Kremlin to wring a geopolitically poignant state out of a West’s circuit and to emanate a partnership that could offer as a springboard for stretched change elsewhere in Africa.

Russia delicately cultivated ties with Zuma from a commencement of his presidency, and a comfortable attribute was mostly giveaway of a haphazard ups and downs that had tormented family between Moscow and Pretoria given a second half of a 1980s. Zuma himself served as a stubborn upholder of Russian interests, operative in ways that confounded even some of his closest aides.

Why, then, did Russian–South African family soar to such heights during Zuma’s presidency usually to trigger his domestic implosion? The pervasiveness of state constraint tells a vast partial of a story, nonetheless not all of it. It is also vicious to take batch of endless chronological ties between Russia and South Africa, that yield a peek of how modern-day Russia seeks to precedence a bequest of a Soviet Union’s endless support for insubordinate movements and postcolonial governments around Africa. In a identical vein, a tighten analysis of Russian ties to South Africa can beget insights into a strengths and weaknesses of a apparatus pack that a Kremlin brings to bear on a continent.

This comment has benefited from endless investigations of a Zuma presidency undertaken by South African executive and authorised bodies, polite multitude groups, environmental activists, and eccentric media outlets.3 By distant a many vicious source has been an usually authorised exploration into state capture, a supposed Zondo Commission. The elect is an substantial painting of a strength of South Africa’s institutional checks and balances and a country’s conspicuous ability for self-examination and accountability. 4 The elect is identical to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that documented crimes and abuses on both sides of a armed onslaught to finish apartheid. The Zondo Commission’s open hearings and sworn statements yield endless fact on how a Zuma supervision operated and how a interests of Zuma’s middle turn and a Kremlin became intertwined.

The authors of this paper also conducted endless interviews in South Africa, a United Kingdom (UK), and a United States. In addition, they relied on declassified U.S. supervision documents, chronological records, and open-source materials in Russian and English, along with methodical insights grown as partial of Carnegie’s multiyear investigate plan entitled a Return of Global Russia.

Comrades in Arms

South Africa has a prolonged story of homegrown, severe domestic activism dating behind to a early twentieth century. The South African Communist Party (SACP), whose foregoer was founded in 1921, was an early proponent of a nonracial South Africa and served as an vicious post of a African National Congress (ANC). Senior SACP celebration members such as Joe Slovo contributed a good understanding to subterraneous anti-apartheid activities after a celebration was criminialized in 1950, including by participating in a initial of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or Spear of a Nation, a armed wing of a ANC, in 1961.

As Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson wrote in their downright history, The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in a Soviet Era, Moscow was a central, despite underappreciated, force in enlivening and organizing antithesis to a apartheid regime: “The USSR [Soviet Union] helped a ANC to spin itself, both in South Africa and internationally, into a categorical voice of South Africa’s oppressed African majority, even nonetheless it was a celebration in exile. It helped a ANC to occupy a reputable and distinguished place in a ubiquitous arena.”5 The care of a ANC delicately offset this attribute with tighten ties to Western partners, many particularly Sweden, that personally supposing hundreds of millions of dollars in support.6 Operating from London, a leaders of a ANC in exile, Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki, postulated a ethereal balancing act between a outmost backers and competing voices inside a anti-apartheid camp.

To be sure, Soviet routine toward South Africa had low ideological and geopolitical underpinnings. The hardship of a black infancy vividly illustrated a evils of a entrepreneur system, and a anti-apartheid onslaught became a buttress of Soviet propaganda. Throughout many of a Cold War, Soviet activism in Africa was a low-risk proceed for a Kremlin to plea Western station in a building universe and to contest ideologically and geopolitically with a arch Communist rival, China.

Based on these motivations, a Soviet Union supposing endless financial, military, and comprehension support to a ANC commencement in a 1960s.7 According to a declassified 1986 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document:

The Soviet Bloc provides probably all a troops assistance viewed by a ANC . . . [and] reserve probably all a troops apparatus to a MK and a 500 Cuban and East German instructors benefaction in Angolan training camps yield training to MK recruits, among others. The Soviet Bloc donates all modernized troops and harm training by means of ‘scholarships’ to a USSR and East Germany; assemblage during such courses seems to be a sine qua non for enrichment in a MK hierarchy.8

Upward of 3,000 ANC activists and fighters came to a Soviet Union for extended durations for several forms of training, educational opportunities, and medical diagnosis during this period, according to Vladimir Shubin who concurrent support on seductiveness of a Central Committee of a Soviet Communist Party.9 Veterans of a anti-apartheid onslaught pronounce reverently of their training and use in a Soviet bloc. Ronnie Kasrils, a comparison MK figure who served as a apportion of comprehension services underneath former boss Mbeki (and after became one of Zuma’s staunchest critics), described conditions in a early 1960s during a dedicated training trickery for fighters from ransom movements on a Black Sea.

I was there with dual hundred black people. For them, their impressions of being lerned by white people, being served in canteens by white people, their bedrooms spotless by aged Ukrainian ladies—they usually couldn’t get over it. . . . We were unequivocally advantageous to have troops instructors who, 20 years earlier, were those pushing a Nazis from a gates of Leningrad and Stalingrad. They were smart people who kept us laughing, nonetheless during a same time were so clearly clever and dynamic to pass their lessons onto us. Their participation was outstanding; to us, a Soviet Union was like a dream, and it was hold with many adore and respect.10

Yet there were darker aspects to Soviet support. Training programs were geared toward ideological teaching and a cultivation of agents of influence. The KGB kept tighten tabs on unfamiliar students and attempted to partisan them as agents.11 Instruction on surreptitious activities was a pivotal partial of a curriculum for students being prepared to attend in subterraneous movements. “Once a week during a educational year and for a full month during a summer, students learn ‘conspiratorial work,’ such as disguise, use of pseudonyms, infiltration and exfiltration, small-arms marksmanships, and unarmed quarrel during a paramilitary training site outward Moscow,” according to a declassified CIA news from 1980.12

The Soviet attribute with South Africa was formidable by a prolonged unemployment in oil prices during a 1980s, that dusty adult a primary source of a Kremlin’s tough banking earnings. Those constraints also magnified what famed KGB fugitive Vasiliy Mitrokhin referred to as “deep contradictions during a heart of Soviet routine towards southern Africa. . . . Moscow confirmed top-secret contacts with Pretoria [under a KGB’s auspices] over a law of a universe marketplace in gold, diamonds, gold and changed metals, in that a Soviet Union and South Africa between them had something of a duopoly.”13 This mercantile co-dependence appears to have kept in check Soviet eagerness to confront a apartheid regime head-on.

A Frozen Relationship

Moscow’s family with a ANC during a loss days of apartheid were formidable by a array of radical routine shifts underneath both Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin as good as Mbeki’s active efforts to revoke a ANC’s coherence on Soviet support. As a Gorbachev supervision sought a essentially new attribute with a West, it began to downplay support for armed onslaught in Africa in both controversial and unsentimental terms. For his part, Mbeki accepted that “a unfreeze in a Cold War would fundamentally meant Moscow’s withdrawal of support for a ANC. Non-alignment was apropos a necessity.”14 During a late Soviet period, a Kremlin pushed a array of tactful initiatives to revoke tensions in southern Africa, including by arranging a dismissal of all ANC fighters from Angola around airlift to Uganda, roughly 2,000 kilometers away. According to Mbeki’s biographer, MK commander Joe Modise believed that this pierce “was a impulse a penny forsaken . . . that South Africa’s usually fortitude would be a negotiated one.”15 In 1991, a Kremlin canceled proceed appropriation for a ANC and all troops training programs for unfamiliar fighters.

Desperate for new sources of outmost financial support, a Gorbachev supervision responded to a lifting of a anathema on a ANC in early 1990 by reestablishing grave tactful contacts with Pretoria, that influenced confusion inside a ANC. Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin avoided personal strike with newly liberated Nelson Mandela. In Jun 1992, Yeltsin hosted a state revisit by South African boss Frederik W. de Klerk to showcase his mangle with Soviet unfamiliar routine orthodoxy. Mandela’s initial revisit to Moscow would not occur until 7 years later.

Russian routine toward Africa remained a low priority during Vladimir Putin’s initial dual terms as boss from 2000 to 2008. The bulletin for Putin’s 2006 revisit to South Africa, a initial by a sitting Russian president, was mostly clinging to arranging blurb opportunities for Russian companies flush with money from a line boom. A handful of large-scale investments in critical sectors (specifically, manganese and vanadium mining) by heading Russian tycoons Viktor Vekselberg and Roman Abramovich drew high-level attention.16 When afterwards boss Dmitry Medvedev trafficked to Africa in a summer of 2009, South Africa was not enclosed on his itinerary. In a impulse of candor, Medvedev certified that Moscow was “almost too late in enchanting with Africa. Work with a African partners should have been started earlier.”17

Over a following decade, Russia’s impasse in a South African economy has remained truly miniscule when compared to that of other trade partners and investors such as a EU, China, a United States, India, and a UK. In 2017, Russia accounted for usually 0.4 percent of South Africa’s unfamiliar trade,18 while South African exports to Russia totaled a tiny $747 million with copper handle being a singular largest export.19 Europe, a United States, and China sojourn by distant a many vicious sources of unfamiliar proceed investment for South Africa.20

Zuma’s Rise and a Advent of State Capture

Zuma’s purpose in a ANC’s subterraneous activities and a armed onslaught dates to a beginning days of MK. (His trade kinship and ANC activism had begun when he was a teen in a late 1950s.) Imprisoned on Robben Island for a decade, he served his judgment alongside comparison sum such as Mandela. Soon after his recover in 1973, he went into outcast and lived for scarcely dual decades in Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zambia. He rose fast by a ranks and assigned a array of comparison ANC positions focused on comprehension and a coordination of subterraneous activities inside South Africa. Zuma has oral unequivocally tiny about his activities during this period. He spent 3 months in a Soviet Union for troops training in 1978, a use that was prevalent for comparison ANC cadres.21

Zuma’s purpose in ANC comprehension structures was mostly commanded by a operational charge of a time. Following a 1976 Soweto overthrow that mobilized an whole epoch of tyro activists, a ANC’s ranks in frontline countries like Angola and Mozambique swelled as immature exiles fled South Africa fervent to join a fight. That liquid non-stop a doorway for a initial time to Soviet confederation troops training for ANC fighters in circuitously countries. But it also authorised a apartheid regime’s comprehension use to penetrate a ANC on a vast scale. Extensive Soviet and East German training and support helped a ANC ramp adult a counterintelligence capabilities to understanding with a many dire task: rooting out a thousands of infiltrators in a midst. This relentless hunt for traitors eventually led to vicious tellurian rights abuses. Zuma took over a comprehension section of a ANC tip troops in a late 1980s, following an middle ANC examination into those abuses.22 Strong inconclusive justification suggests that Zuma himself played a partial in a indignity of ANC prisoners.

Zuma was partial of a initial call of comparison ANC officials who returned to South Africa immediately after a anathema on a classification was lifted. He played an vicious purpose in a negotiations that led to a pacific handover of ardour in 1994. Zuma’s status rose usually during a presidencies of Mandela and Mbeki. He served as emissary boss for 6 years underneath Mbeki, with whom he had a long-standing rivalry. Mbeki was eventually forced to renounce a presidency in late 2008 following revelations that he had interfered improperly in an examination into Zuma’s purported impasse in a hurtful arms deal. That paved a proceed for Zuma’s feat in a 2009 presidential election.

Getting Warmer (Again)

With Zuma during a helm, South Africa’s ties to Russia fast warmed. His initial year in office—2009—coincided with a tellurian financial crisis, that strike commodity producers generally hard. Zuma pushed for South Africa to join a spontaneous BRIC organisation of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, that Moscow touted as an vicious choice to a G7. The Kremlin supposing vicious subsidy for Zuma’s ask to join a nascent forum. At a time, many observers were decidedly skeptical, including a Goldman Sachs economist who had initial coined a BRIC moniker.23 South Africa’s tiny tellurian mercantile footprint, low life expectancy, and high levels of inequality compared unfavorably to other impending members such as Indonesia, Mexico, or Turkey.24

Zuma attended his initial BRICS heads of state assembly in Apr 2011 in Sanya, China, and assimilated his associate leaders in condemning a U.S.-led impasse in Libya—even nonetheless South Africa had voted in preference of a no-fly section over Libya in a United Nations (UN) Security Council usually weeks earlier.25 The Libya predicament roiled a U.S.-Russian relationship, with Russian officials charging publicly that Washington and a allies had left over their UN Security Council mandate.26 Events in Libya and other regions also helped propel a Zuma government’s unfamiliar routine in directions that were increasingly vicious of U.S. and European positions on ubiquitous confidence matters.

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, a South African supervision seemed to set aside some of a normal principles—specifically, noninterference in a affairs of emperor states, a inviolability of borders, and antithesis to regime change.27 It abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly fortitude in Mar 2014 in support of Ukraine’s territorial firmness and avoided any proceed critique of Russian actions opposite Ukraine. For his part, Zuma fit a pierce by insisting, weakly, that it was vicious to tighten ranks with associate BRICS members on a matter.28

Meanwhile, a Kremlin launched a critical pull to settle tighten ties with South Africa’s confidence apparatus. Such moves benefited from a reshuffling of comparison confidence advisers and Zuma’s increasing faith on sum such as David Mahlobo, a Zuma protégé and unashamed loyalist with no before comprehension or law coercion experience, who was allocated in 2014 to lead a State Security Agency (SSA). During his initial year in office, he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev during slightest 4 times.29 The Russian readout of Patrushev’s late Nov 2015 revisit to Pretoria highlighted a hazard of unfamiliar division and “color revolutions”—the reign Russian officials use to news approved revolutions, which, they claim, a United States sponsors to implement U.S.-friendly regimes.30 From time to time, such tongue crept into open pronouncements by Mahlobo and others about Zuma’s domestic and polite multitude opponents.

SSA crew allegedly trafficked to Russia for training, according to unconfirmed internal press accounts. Earlier in Zuma’s tenure, South African troops comprehension had reportedly sought to rise a possess satellite notice capabilities with Russian help.31 Politicization of a comprehension services, already a long-standing problem, became an increasingly vicious source of tensions during Zuma’s reign amid vigour on his domestic opponents, media manipulation, and other abuses, according to a blue-ribbon row determined by stream South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.32

A Nuclear Maelstrom

Starting with Putin’s 2006 visit, a Kremlin pushed evenly to rouse shared arch team-work with South Africa. The initial breakthrough was a Putin-Mbeki agreement for Russia to supply fuel to South Africa’s Koeberg arch ardour plant.33 Koeberg is partial of an estate from a apartheid regime’s arch weapons program, and a dual reactors beget approximately 5 percent of a country’s sum electricity.34 On a same visit, Putin also publicly called for ramping adult shared team-work on uranium mining and arch ardour plant construction, activities that would eventually take core theatre during a state constraint investigation.35

South Africa’s commissioned electricity ability is substantial (at roughly 44,000 megawatts as of 2018).36 The state-owned corner Eskom finished vicious strides to enhance entrance to electricity starting in a late 1980s, and it was generally well-regarded before to Zuma’s tenure. Growth projections for a South African economy during a early 2000s highlighted probable supply constraints and a destabilizing effects thereof. By 2010, there was clever contention about either destiny electrical epoch ability would be subsequent from spark (the country’s categorical bequest fuel source), fracking and healthy gas (thanks to South Africa’s abounding reserves), arch power, or breeze and solar energy. During a Mbeki presidency, Eskom explored a probable $12 billion enlargement of a Koeberg trickery nonetheless motionless in 2008 that a plan was unaffordable.37

Enter Russia’s arch ardour monopoly, Rosatom. The firm’s afterwards CEO Sergei Kiriyenko, a author of critical reforms to Russia’s arch section in a mid-2000s, had identified enlargement of arch ardour plant construction abroad as one of Rosatom’s tip priorities in a arise of a tellurian financial crisis. The predicament had led to poignant belt-tightening around a Russian economy, and Rosatom’s care noticed ubiquitous enlargement as a resource for nutritious egghead and technical capabilities inside Russia and appropriation vicious programs. The organisation continues to play adult prospects for unfamiliar reactor sales even today. In a Jun 2019 interview, stream CEO Alexey Likhachev claimed that Rosatom has contracts for $190 billion, of that $90 billion is for projects in twelve countries that have already started.38 (Russian and unfamiliar experts have voiced doubt about these numbers.)

Despite a inclination of a company’s executives to elaborate their abroad selling prowess, Rosatom also serves as an vicious apparatus for a Kremlin’s unfamiliar routine agenda. That purpose has combined poignant despite unresolvable tensions within a company. Its technocratic leadership, that takes a some-more regressive proceed to handling a firm’s finances, chafes during being saddled with projects that do not make good mercantile sense. Yet, to a Kremlin, that controls a association by a slip board, even bad deals can make for good geopolitics. Putin’s determined advocacy of a large-scale arch understanding with South Africa fell precisely into this category.39

The Makings of a Shady Deal

Viewed from South Africa, a many discouraging aspects of a understanding were a huge cost, a negligence for a determined authorised and executive norms for supervision procurement, and a odds that a arch personal beneficiaries would be Zuma and a Guptas. The Guptas are a contingent of immigrants to South Africa from India who became tighten with Zuma and enriched members of a Zuma family, his middle circle, and themselves. From Rosatom’s indicate of view, a understanding appears to have been tiny some-more than a loss-leader. South Africa’s muted mercantile prospects and argumentative ability to shoulder a costs of constructing and handling a new constellation of polite arch ardour plants meant that financial rewards for Rosatom were distant from a certain thing. Ultimately, any blurb upside for Rosatom would have been subsequent from remunerative long-term agreements for arch fuel, reactor maintenance, and decommissioning activities over a plant’s projected fifty to sixty years of use life. Accordingly, a geopolitical value of a understanding positioning Russia as a critical actor in South Africa’s economy (with an eye toward serve enlargement elsewhere on a continent) would have been distant some-more consequential.

Discussions with Moscow on arch team-work accelerated shortly after Zuma ascended to a presidency. From a outset, there was a foe underneath proceed between a protagonists of a Zuma/Russia arch understanding and a many checks to it which, early on, were activated.40 As early as a autumn of 2011, Zuma told afterwards financial apportion Pravin Gordhan that he wanted to endowment a whole construction understanding to Russia. He brushed aside Gordhan’s insistence on following determined procedures for state procurement, according to Gordhan’s combined testimony to a state constraint commission.41 Gordhan warned Zuma that unwell to follow a determined procedures could land a boss in difficulty identical to a fallout over a progressing arms sales liaison that had scarcely finished his domestic career. As Gordan’s inheritor Nhlanhla Nene, who served as financial apportion from May 2014 to Dec 2015, put it, a arch plan “would have constituted a largest open investment module in South African history, and, relations to a distance of a South African economy, would have been one of a largest open section investments ever undertaken internationally.”42

As negotiations continued, Zuma loyalists, like those in a Department of Energy, attempted to sideline opponents of a deal. Zuma himself insincere proceed control of a routine by a special ardour commission. This executive wrestling match, along with efforts to disguise information about a understanding from parliamentary oversight, finished it unfit to weigh a project’s intensity impact on a country’s financial health. Gordhan and other officials were mostly cut out of a discussions. Concerns about taxation incentives offering to a Russians as partial of a understanding were mostly disregarded.43 Treasury officials also disturbed about a projected executive impact of a open debt compared with a plan and a probability that destiny electricity cost increases would be upheld on to a ubiquitous population.

The South African antithesis celebration Democratic Alliance, inquisitive journalists, and county activists all charged publicly that a arch reactor understanding was concocted in vast magnitude to advantage a Gupta family. In 2010, a Guptas had partnered with Zuma’s son Duduzane and used state supports to squeeze a critical uranium mine, a pierce that positioned them as intensity suppliers of a country’s destiny arch ardour plants. (U.S. officials warned South African counterparts during a time that a Guptas’ enlargement into uranium mining “may have been saved by Iran and that uranium from this cave was unfailing for Iran’s arch program.”44) The Guptas also ensured that Zuma commissioned their allies on Eskom’s board, so giving them a critical contend in a using of a company.45

In Aug 2014, Zuma suddenly trafficked to Russia accompanied usually by comprehension apportion Mahlobo and a emissary unfamiliar minister. The purpose of a revisit and Zuma’s assembly with Putin was not sufficient explained, that annoyed a good understanding of courtesy and conjecture during home. Despite a inflection on a shared agenda, arch team-work was conspicuously absent from a South African government’s executive readout of a visit.46 (Mahlobo after claimed that Zuma had left to Moscow for medical diagnosis following an assassination attempt.47)

Just 3 weeks later, in Vienna, South African and Russian member hermetic a grave agreement on critical arch cooperation.48 The agreement was kept confidential, and a part usually heightened suspicions about a loyal inlet of a dual countries’ building arch relationship. A corner press matter pronounced that a agreement

laid a substructure for a large-scale arch ardour plants (NPP) buying and enlargement module of South Africa formed on a construction in RSA of new arch ardour plants with Russian VVER reactors with sum commissioned ability of adult to 9,6 GW (up to 8 NPP units). These will be a initial NPPs formed on a Russian record to be built on a African continent.49

Rosatom’s Kiriyenko pronounced during a time that a construction apportionment of a understanding was value ceiling of $40–50 billion.50 The sum understanding was estimated to be value $76 billion.51

Scrutiny from polite multitude groups and Zuma’s domestic opponents—as good as a government’s miss of clarity about a understanding and about Russia’s executive purpose in it—created an sharpening array of domestic and authorised problems. Soon thereafter, Ecodefense!, a Russian environmental nongovernmental organization, leaked a duplicate of a trusted Sep 2014 agreement to dual South African activists. The essence of a ask finished it formidable for a supervision to remonstrate anyone that it was conducting a correct offer formed on bids from French, South Korean, and U.S. firms, let alone subjecting a understanding to parliamentary review.52 The activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, won substantial commend for stirring grassroots antithesis and organizing authorised challenges.

Neither Zuma nor a Russian supervision seemed to entirely interpretation a debate that they had combined or a scale of antithesis to a deal. According to former financial apportion Nene’s testimony, Zuma was entirely committed to move with a understanding during a BRICS extent in Russia in Jul 2015, even nonetheless pivotal financial sum had not been resolved.53 Nene lifted concerns with Zuma that a financial sum of a understanding had been kept from book officials, usually for Zuma to impugn him for allegedly unwell to perform his duties. Nene was dismissed in late 2015.

Even after an Apr 2017 high probity statute that a arch understanding was unconstitutional, Zuma remained defiant. He brushed aside final to belong to state buying procedures and accusations of crime while fortitude to demeanour for ways to cure a agreement. In a months before to his resignation, he influenced additional debate by assigning comprehension arch Mahlobo to run a Department of Energy.

Zuma’s sudden abdication hermetic a predestine of a deal. Since then, his successor, Ramaphosa, has confirmed a deferential position toward Moscow even as he has finished transparent that a arch understanding is simply unaffordable for now. Ramaphosa’s participation during a initial Russia-Africa extent in Sochi in Oct 2019 was overshadowed by a mystic revisit of dual Russian nuclear-capable Blackjack bombers to South Africa.54 The miss of suggestive deliverables from Ramaphosa’s revisit to Russia conveyed an observable clarity that a shared attribute between Russia and South Africa currently is simply imprinting time.

Russia’s Tool Kit: Less Than Meets a Eye

The unsuccessful arch understanding was singular in terms of a outsized impact on South Africa’s domestic domestic stability, intensity disastrous mercantile consequences, and a enterprise of Russian officials to use arch ardour as a apparatus to enhance Moscow’s footprint in Africa for decades to come. But a understanding also illustrated a boundary of Russia’s strech and a medium apparatus pack for lifted ardour and change in regions distant over a periphery. The disaster of a arch understanding also lifted questions about a viability of Russia’s renewed hopes for wielding larger tellurian influence.

Notably, a understanding was frequency a manoeuvre for Russian state coffers. The perfect distance of a offer and a projected weight on a South African economy tend to cryptic a fact that Rosatom was being forced to commence a vast construction plan with capricious upfront financing and equally capricious prospects for long-term blurb gain.55 In theory, Rosatom stood to replenish some of these outlays around long-term fuel purchases and other use agreements. Yet in practice, it is tough to disremember a fact that a understanding was mostly a dodgy try with poignant risks driven by geopolitical, rather than commercial, considerations.

Russia is frequency an appealing mercantile partner for South Africa in many respects. Bilateral trade is insignificant and, deliberation a critical purpose of extractive industries in both countries’ economies, they suffer no healthy complementarity. Russia has prolonged struggled to attract unfamiliar investors and is frequency a earnest investment finish for South Africa. Moscow has no story of fluctuating loans to Pretoria during a Cold War. As a result, a Kremlin could not hook debt forgiveness, one of a primary collection for mercantile statecraft, to incentivize South African domestic team-work in multilateral venues like a UN, as it has prolonged finished with partners in other collection of sub-Saharan Africa.

Arms deals are likewise a nonstarter. Sales of Russian required weaponry, that have been vicious for Moscow’s courtship of several African countries, have had tiny seductiveness for Pretoria. South Africa, forced to work underneath ubiquitous sanctions during a apartheid regime, has prolonged had a possess inland armaments industry. As a result, South Africa has conjunction a bequest arsenal of Soviet-era weapons and apparatus in need of modernization or maintenance, nor a need to squeeze new Russian arms and equipment.

Besides that, generational change is gradually eroding Russia’s other source of leverage—the substantial grade of support a Kremlin gave to a ANC during a apartheid era. The bequest of apartheid is benefaction in probably each aspect of South African life, and Russia’s miss of impasse with a apartheid regime is unequivocally still an vicious reputational advantage. But a epoch of ANC leaders who were lerned in a Soviet Union or who competence have benefited from Soviet support is aging. Zuma and Mbeki are both seventy-seven years old. Modern-day Russia offers tiny in a proceed of unsentimental assistance for assisting South Africa understanding with a deep-set mercantile and executive challenges. That is expected to extent a lure as a partner to destiny generations of South African leaders. Their attitudes and priorities are some-more expected to be made by a country’s formidable domestic life and enlargement needs than by apartheid-era nostalgia.

That leaves dual other collection for Russia to feat in expanding ties with South Africa—high-level tact and a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil proceed to doing business. South Africa’s inclusion in a BRICS and Putin’s personal impasse in BRICS tact are positively useful for nutritious high-level ties with South African leaders. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration’s continued oversight to South Africa enhances a application of such personal diplomacy. For South Africa’s leaders, annual appearances during BRICS summits accelerate their country’s station on a African continent and offer domestic and ubiquitous prestige.

But when South African leaders have sought to use a BRICS as a height to understanding with a issues of biggest courtesy to a Global South, they have detected that a Kremlin is a rather musing and variable champion. The miss of discernible deliverables from BRICS gatherings boundary their application for South Africa and, inadvertently, competence even detract from Russia’s purpose in these forums by emphasizing a significance of another pivotal power—China—for South Africa.

At a UN, Moscow has prioritized building tighten ties with South Africa and a countries holding a 3 rotating African seats on a Security Council, a supposed A3. Russia and China have frequently dangled a thought of UN Security Council remodel in discussions with a A3 and South Africa, that has been a nonpermanent member of a Security Council 3 times. Moscow and Beijing have pragmatic that BRICS members and other countries of a Global South should have larger clout, nonetheless Russian support appears to be essentially rhetorical.56 Russian diplomats seldom, if ever, mention how remodel competence work or emanate convincing calls for expanding a Security Council’s membership ranks. Once again, Russia talks large nonetheless does not unequivocally deliver.

Russia’s miss of seductiveness in support reliable norms can be useful in a mercantile overdo in countries with diseased order of law and polite society. But a Kremlin schooled a tough proceed a downsides of posterior a arch understanding with South Africa though many courtesy for that country’s timeless authorised and executive institutions and norms, eccentric media landscape, and colourful polite society. Such institutional checks and balances helped display a inlet of state constraint and crude function by comparison South African officials, along with Russia’s cryptic proceed to state capitalism. Zuma’s eagerness to spin a blind eye to a debate supposing usually proxy advantages for a Kremlin. In a end, all of these advantages came to naught.

A Meager Inheritance

At initial glance, Russia’s prospects for securing a foothold in South Africa looked utterly promising. Zuma, a Soviet-trained comprehension operative, ascended to a presidency underneath a cloud of crime allegations. The Kremlin had successfully leveraged such situations elsewhere in a world. Over time, Zuma corroborated divided from South Africa’s Mandela-era, Western-leaning unfamiliar routine horizon in preference of a some-more anti-Western, heavily conspiratorial perspective of a ubiquitous system. (To be sure, such views have low roots in a ANC even nonetheless they are strongly contested.) Zuma’s unfamiliar routine aligned rather easily with Russian positions on many issues, including a conflicts in Libya and Syria, as good as a hazard allegedly acted by supposed tone revolutions and a dark palm of self-interested Western powers.

But a Kremlin overplayed a hand. Its office of a massive, nontransparent arch understanding mobilized South African polite multitude and Zuma’s domestic opponents. Instead of anchoring Moscow’s attribute with Pretoria, a arch understanding demonstrated Russia’s singular strech and miss of seductiveness as a partner to a nation volatile in terms of approved governance, clever polite multitude organizations, press freedoms, and domestic competition. Another unintended effect was a clarity that a unsuccessful arch understanding was all there was to a South Africa–Russia relationship. This unprotected Russia’s limited—at best—tool pack for long-range projection of a ardour and influence.

The argumentative reliable aspects of a arch understanding and a Kremlin’s purpose in avidly compelling it illustrate a Putin regime’s repute as an oftentimes unpalatable and improvident business partner. Such deals competence seductiveness to a leaders of countries with diseased order of law and frail polite society, nonetheless in South Africa any destiny deals involving Russia are expected to attract substantial scrutiny.

While a argumentative advantages of a arch understanding for South Africa have been good documented, a indeterminate mercantile advantages for Russia have drawn reduction attention. This, in turn, underscores a purpose of geopolitics and opportunism as a pivotal drivers of Russian routine toward South Africa. With a scanty apparatus pack for nutritious a geopolitical ambitions, Moscow is anticipating that success is some-more fugitive than ordinarily perceived. Serious questions sojourn about a discernible advantages such tellurian forays will yield to a Kremlin over a prolonged run.

Against a backdrop of a Kremlin’s division in a 2016 U.S. presidential choosing and in other critical Western democracies, it is tantalizing to interpretation that Russia’s renewed tellurian activism is producing one success after another. Unfortunately, examples of Russian overreach and distortion continue to be overlooked. South Africa stands as a divulgence instance of a boundary of a Kremlin’s ham-fisted dealmaking, a singular apparatus kit, and a unpalatable collection Russian officials mostly tumble behind on.


1 Paul Stronski, “Late to a Party: Russia’s Return to Africa,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Oct 16, 2019,

2 Ibid; and Nathaniel Reynolds, “Putin’s Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and a Wagner Group,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jul 8, 2019,

3 See, for example, a 2016 news prepared by a South African Public Protector. South African Public Protector, “State of Capture,” Oct 14, 2016,

4 South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, “Rules Governing Proceedings of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry Into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in a Public Sector Including Organs of State,” Notice 396 of 2018, Government Gazette, Jul 13, 2018,

5 Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson, The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in a Soviet Era, (Johannesburg, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2013), 491.

6 Ida Karlsson, “Billions of Swedish Krona Supported a Struggle Against Apartheid,” Inter Press Service News Agency, Feb 11, 2019,

7 Soviet proceed financing of a ANC was generally used for supportive activities connected with a armed struggle. Vladimir Shubin and Marina Traikova, “There is No Threat From a Eastern Bloc,” in The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume 3: International Solidarity, South African Democracy Education Trust (Unisa Press: Pretoria, 2008), 1059–1060,

8 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “The African National Congress of South Africa: Organization, Communist Ties, and Short-term Prospects,” Special National Intelligence Estimate, Jul 1986, 22.

9 Vladimir Shubin, ANC: A View from Moscow, (Johannesburg, Jacana Media, 2008), 312.

10 Ronnie Kasrils, talk by Marcus Barnett, “Sabotaging Apartheid,” Jacobin, Nov 2017,

11 CIA, “Moscow’s Third World Education Programs: An Investment in Political Influence,” CIA Historical Review Program, Jul 1989 (released 1999),

12 Ibid.

13 Christopher Andrew and Vasiliy Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and a Battle for a Third World, (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 468–469.

14 Mark Gevisser, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, (Johannesburg, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2007), 483–484.

15 Ibid., 530.

16 Vicki Robinson and Stefaans Brümmer, “SA Democracy Incorporated: Corporate Fronts and Political Party Funding,” Institute for Security Studies, Paper 129, Nov 2006,; and “Joint Announcement by Anglo American PLC, Evraz Group SA and Credit Suisse,” Anglo American, Jul 14, 2006,

17 “Afrika povernulas k Dmitriyu Medvedevu” [Africa Returned to Dmitry Medvedev], Kommersant no. 113, Jun 26, 2009,

18 “South Africa Trade Statistics,” World Bank World Integrated Trade Solution, 2017,

19 “South Africa,” a Observatory of Economic Complexity, 2017,

20 International Monetary Fund, “Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS),”

21 South African High Commission, “Biographical Profile of Jacob Zuma, ANC President,”

22 Joe Brock and Ed Cropley, “How Zuma, a Smiling Spy, Controls South Africa,” Reuters, May 4, 2016,; and Predraig O’Malley, “Operations Report: The Department of Intelligence and Security of a African National Congress,” Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, Aug 6, 1983,

23 J. Brooks Spector, “O’Neill: South Africa’s Inclusion in BRICS Smacks of Politics,” Daily Maverick, Oct 4, 2011,

24 “Life Expectancy during Birth,” CIA World Factbook, 2018,; “OECD Data: Income Inequality,” Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2015,; Stuenkel Oliver, “South Africa’s BRICS Membership: A Win-win Situation?” African Journal of Political Science and International Relations 7 no. 7, Oct 2013, 310–319; Courtney Ivins, “Inequality Matters: BRICS Inequalities Fact Sheet,” Oxfam and BRICS Policy Center,; and Jaya Josie, “Looking Beyond South Africa: The Urgency of Addressing Inequality in BRICS,” Human Sciences Research Council,

25 Ray Colitt, “BRICS Powers Criticise Western Strikes in Libya—Source,” Reuters, Apr 14, 2011,

26 “NATO War in Libya Violates U.N. Mandate, Russia Says,” Reuters, Apr 19, 2011,

27 Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, “South Africa’s Response to a Ukrainian Crisis,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, Jun 2014,

28 Alec Hogg, “An Hour (and a Half) With Jacob Zuma,” Biznews, Feb 9, 2015,

29 “Press Release on a Working Visit of a Secretary of a Security Council of a Russian Federation to a Republic of South Africa—Highlights,” Embassy of a Russian Federation in a Republic of South Africa, Nov 26, 2015,

30 “25 noyabrya sostoyalas rabochaya poezdka Sekretarya Soveta Bezopasnosty Rossiyskoy Federatsii v Yuzhnuyu-Afrikansuyu Respubliku” [A operative revisit of a Secretary of a Security Council to South Africa Took Place on Nov 25], Russian Security Council, Nov 25, 2015,

31 Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, Thanduxolo Jika, and Sabelo Skiti, “Putin’s Hand in Cabinet Reshuffle,” Sunday Times, Oct 22, 2017,; and Will Jordan, “S Africa Spied on Russia for Satellite Project Details,” Al Jazeera, Feb 25, 2015,

32 South African High Level Review Panel on a State Security Agency, “Report of a High Level Review Panel on a State Security Agency,” Dec 2018,

33 President of Russia, “Press Conference Following Russian–South African Talks,” Sep 5, 2006,

34 World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in South Africa,” Feb 2019,

35 President of Russia, “Opening Remarks during Meeting with Russian and South African Business Community Leaders,” Sep 6, 2006,

36 “South African Energy Sector Report 2018,” South African Department of Energy, Nov 2018,

37 World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in South Africa.”

38 Katya Golubkova and Gleb Stolyarov, “Russia’s Rosatom Sees Foreign Revenues, New Products Fueling Rapid Growth,” Reuters, Jun 24, 2019,

39 Alexander Winning, “Russia’s Putin Raises Nuclear Deal during Ramaphosa Meeting During BRICS,” Reuters, Jul 30, 2018,

40 The grave trigger for a renewed turn of shared discussions was a government’s preference to set an desirous aim for 9.6 gigawatts in new reactor construction projects that would supply 23 percent of a country’s electricity by 2030. See South African Department of Energy, “Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity 2010–2030,” Mar 25, 2011,

41 “Statement by Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan Regarding Terms of Reference 1.1. to 1.3,” Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in a Public Sector Including Organs of State (Zondo Commission), Oct 11, 2018,

42 Ferial Haffajee, “Nene’s Testimony Thrusts Light on Zuma, a Classic Kleptocrat,” Daily Maverick, October 4, 2018,

43 “Statement by Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan Regarding Terms of Reference 1.1. to 1.3,” Zondo Commission.

44 “Affidavit of Rieaz Shaik,” Zondo Commission,

45 Karan Mahajan, “‘State Capture’: How a Gupta Brothers Hijacked South Africa Using Bribes Instead of Bullets,” Vanity Fair, Mar 3, 2019,

46 “Statement on a Bilateral Meeting between President Zuma and President Putin, during a Novo-Ogarevo Presidential Residence, Moscow, Russia,” a South African Presidency, Aug 28, 2014,

47 Karabo Ngoepe, “Zuma Was Poisoned, Treated in Russia—Mahlobo,” Africa News 24-7, Dec 13, 2017,

48 “Agreement Between a Government of a Republic of South Africa and a Government of a Russian Federation on Strategic Cooperation in a Fields of Nuclear Power and Industry,” Zondo Commission,

49 “Statement by Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan Regarding Terms of Reference 1.1. to 1.3,” Zondo Commission.

50 “Kiriyenko: ‘Rosatom’ do 2023 goda postavit v YAR vosem atomnyh energoblokov” [Kiriyenko: Rosatom will set adult 8 reactors in South Africa by 2023], TASS, Sep 22, 2014,

51 Joseph Cotterill, “South African Nuclear Deal With Russia Unlawful, Court Rules,” Financial Times, April 26, 2017,

52 “Skandalynoe soglashenie ‘Rosatoma’ obnarodovano v YAR” [Rosatom’s shameful agreement leaked in South Africa], Ecodefense!, Feb 23, 2015,; and Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, “The Hazards of a Nuclear Future,” a Golden Environmental Prize,

53 Nhlanhla Musa Nene, “Statement to a State Capture Commission of Inquiry,” Zondo Commission,

54 Gareth Jennings, “Russian Bombers Visit South Africa in Show of Solidarity and Strength,” Jane’s 360, Oct 23, 2019,

55 “Commission of Inquiry Into State Capture Held during Parktown, Johannesburg,” Zondo Commission, Oct 3, 2018,

56 Elena Teslova, “Russia Calls for Reforming UN Security Council,” Anadolu Agency, Feb 25, 2019,; and Peter Fabricius, “Call for Reform of UN Security Council Falls Short,” Daily Maverick, Jun 5, 2018,

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