More questions on Russian “delivery” aircraft at AFB Waterkloof

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Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald, while noting the Lady R judicial inquiry is preparing its report, will again question the Defence and Military Veterans Minister on another suspect Russian visitor to a South African military base.

The “visitor” was an Ilyushin Il-76, a multi-purpose, high-wing, four-engine aircraft, operated by Aviacon Zitotrans, which touched down at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof in Centurion on 24 April. The aircraft was apparently carrying “parcels” for the Russian Federation Embassy in Menlo Park, Pretoria.

Minister Thandi Modise’s reply to Groenewald’s Il-76 question said she [and the ruling party] were not “not playing open cards”.

FF+ research shows until 28 March this year no other Russian aircraft landed at the Centurion base, seen as the SA Air Force (SAAF) transport hub. Waterkloof is home to 28, 41, and 44 Squadrons as well as support units.

According to Groenewald, the Aviacon Zitotrans transport is subject to United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) sanctions because “it transported arms for the Russian army”.

He goes on: “the FF Plus demanded answers from government about the landing enquiring why [AFB] Waterkloof was used and not an ordinary airport. In response, Minister Modise said the plane was delivering diplomatic mail and it, therefore, had permission to land there. A spokesperson for the SANDF (SA National Defence Force), Brigadier-General Andries Mahapa, confirmed the plane was granted ‘diplomatic status’ so it was allowed to land”.

Modise can ready herself for follow-up questions on the Russian visitor. He plans to ask, among others, how it’s possible a private company subjected to international sanctions can be granted diplomatic status in South Africa.

The Aviacon Zitotrans incident has to be taken into account alongside the arrival, apparent unloading and loading of, as yet unspecified, cargo at Naval Base (NB) Simon’s town, SA Navy (SAN) fleet home port, in December.

On that Groenewald said former judge Phineas Mojapelo and his panel have concluded their investigation and they have two weeks to compile a report.

“The FF Plus will insist the report be made public.”

More Russian visitors

Other Russian aircraft have more recently arrived in South Africa, with one of the visitors landing at Waterkloof. A Russian government Ilyushin Il-96 arrived at Waterkloof on Monday morning, apparently for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) national security advisors and BRICS Plus meeting from 24 July in Johannesburg. The meeting is being held under the theme “Cyber security review as a developing challenge for global security”.

Several other foreign aircraft have landed at Waterkloof, apparently also for the BRICS security advisors meeting, including an Iranian government Airbus A340, a Brazilian military Embraer 135, and a Chinese government Boeing 737 Boeing Business Jet (carrying China’s top diplomat Wang Yi). South Africa is the current BRICS chair and will host a summit of the bloc’s leaders next month.

Meanwhile, a Tupolev Tu-204 operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) landed at Lanseria on Saturday and then proceeded to Cape Town International Airport on Sunday, carrying a VIP delegation of 20 passengers. The Russian Embassy in South Africa said Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov opened the “Optical-Electronic Complex for Detection and Measurement of the Movement Parameters of Space Debris” telescope at Hartebeesthoek. In 2021, Sansa signed a bilateral agreement with Roscosmos to build a space debris tracking system at Hartebeesthoek, with Roscosmos establishing space-junk monitoring stations in South Africa, Mexico and Chile.

Sansa has joined forces with the Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese space agencies to create the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation.