Russia mistakenly claims South African APC captured in Ukraine

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Ahead of its annual Victory Day parade on 9 May, Russia is displaying a range of military hardware captured during the conflict in Ukraine, including an armoured personnel carrier (APC) it claims is from South Africa.

The vehicle has a South African flag affixed to its side while on display at an open-air museum in Moscow during the month-long exhibition, entitled ‘Trophies of the Russian Army’. The exhibition, which opened on 1 May, includes some 30 vehicles and weapons supplied to Ukraine by various countries, such as the United States (M1 Abrams tank and Bradley armoured vehicle), Australia, Germany (Leopard tank and Marder infantry fighting vehicle), France (AMX-10RC), United Kingdom, Turkey, Sweden (CV90), Austria, Czech Republic, and Finland.

As the ‘South African’ APC looks like the Mamba originally manufactured by South Africa’s TFM Industries (later Reumech OMC), it is to some degree understandable that Russia would confuse it with the Alvis 4 version manufactured by Alvis UK for the British Army.

Ukraine’s defence ministry in May 2022 announced that it had received a number of Alvis 4 vehicles that were built in the United Kingdom and then used in Estonia. Photos at the time showed seven being delivered to Ukraine.

Alvis 4s being delivered from Estonia to Ukraine in 2022.

The first recorded losses of the Alvis 4 in combat came in June 2022, when two were destroyed, and one was damaged by artillery, abandoned and subsequently captured by the Russian Army.

According to arms transfers data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the UK delivered seven Alvis 4 vehicles to Estonia in 2004, for use in Afghanistan (as Estonia contributed troops to that country).

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier said that while some may argue that the Alvis 4 design is originally South African, “that clearly doesn’t warrant this display which is clearly intended to show that South Africa supplied the vehicle. It also shows how one-sided the relationship between South Africa and Russia has often been.”

“I’m surprised displaying the South African flag in this manner hasn’t resulted in a diplomatic complaint from South Africa,” he added.

He explained that Alvis bought licence production rights to the Mamba and produced it as the Alvis 4 and Alvis 8, selling them to the British Army. “As they weren’t sold from or built in SA our export controls didn’t factor.”

A destroyed Alvis 4 in Ukraine.

Sandile Ndlovu, South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) Export Council CEO, told defenceWeb that the industry is regulated by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) Act, and for any exports to occur those need to get issued with permits by a Cabinet Committee of Ministers (NCACC Committee).

“Through this Committee we have never applied for, nor received, any export permits to the Ukraine. The South African defence industry is a responsible economic player and supports and contributes towards national goals and objectives. As such, SADI does not engage in activities that are against the policies of our Government,” he said.

The only other item of South African military equipment spotted in Ukraine is a single Mbombe 6 infantry fighting vehicle, which was sent to Ukraine before the 2022 invasion as a marketing/demonstration vehicle. Due to the conflict, it has been unable to be returned to South Africa and its NCACC marketing permit has been extended to reflect this.