South Africa: pro-Russian neutrality?

South Africa has formally declared its neutrality regarding the Russian war against Ukraine. However, as many countries of the region it is severely impacted by the war, even if it is located on the other continent. Food crisis and rising prices for food and oil threaten to hit the most vulnerable segments of population and local experts expect the rise of gender-based violence as well as increasing migration to South Africa from the neighboring countries whose economy will be hit more severely.

In such a context, the long-standing Russian influence in the region and absence of Ukrainian agency facilitate the spread of propaganda, with RT being one of the most crucial channels of its dissemination. While civic society in South Africa largely sympathizes with Ukraine, the government occasionally leans towards the Russian federation despite formally preserving neutrality.

This inclination is made possible due to the consistent use of key narratives that Russia pushes in media, online and through personal channels of communication. First and foremost, Moscow positions itself as an anti-colonial power, playing to the anti-Western sentiments and disregarding the neocolonial nature of its war against Ukraine. There is insufficient level of critical perception of Russia and its historical colonialism in South Africa, which makes it more susceptible towards Russian influence.

Ukraine In Flames #180 explores the position of the South African government on the Russian war against Ukraine, key narratives of Russian disinformation in the country and channels of their dissemination. Failing in Europe and the US, Moscow tries to find allies to bypass sanctions and survive the pressure in the Global South, which elevates the strategic importance of the region even more.


  • Steven Gruzd, Head of African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)
  • Dzvinka Kachur, Fellow researcher, Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University 
  • Professor William Gumede, the School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand and Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation.

UKRAINE IN FLAMES project is created by Ukraine Crisis Media Center and NGO “Euroatlantic Course”. We are aiming at searching a loud support for Ukraine in the war started by Russia on the 24th of February 2022.

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