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Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the war, now entering its fourth week, could have been avoided had NATO not expanded east.
“War could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings of its leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” Ramaphosa said.
He was careful to make clear that South Africa “cannot condone the use of force and the violation of international law”.
The South African president refused to condemn Russia, saying he had been asked to mediate in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but did not specify who had contacted him.
“There are those who insist on taking a very hostile stance against Russia. The approach we will take (instead) is … to insist on the need for dialogue,” he said, adding: “Screaming and screaming will not lead to an end to this conflict.”
Ramaphosa said he did not want to take sides because that would harm his country’s role as a potential mediator. He noted that South Africa plays a similar role in the conflict between Northern Ireland and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. South Africa was one of 35 countries that abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus joined the vote against the resolution by Belarus, which provides a springboard for the Russian military, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. The United States and 140 other countries voted to adopt the resolution.
In just the past two months, the US presence in Europe has jumped from about 80,000 troops to about 100,000, a number close to the number it had in 1997 when the United States and its NATO allies began expanding the alliance that Putin says threatens Russia and must be reversed.
For comparison, in 1991, the year the Soviet Union was dissolved, the United States had 305,000 troops in Europe, including 224,000 in Germany alone, according to Pentagon records. Then the number has steadily declined, reaching 101,000 in 2005 and nearly 64,000 as recently as 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.