The flags of the Brics countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. (Getty)
- Russia is invading Ukraine in what NATO and others have condemned as an unprovoked attack that destabilises all of Europe.
- Further sanctions are against Russia, and severing of trade ties, are now expected.
- By Russia’s figures, South Africa has some R77 billion tied up in that country, far more than the other way around.
- Naspers and AB Inbev have large investments in Russia, and trade ties are also important to unlisted companies such as Zest Fruit.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Ukraine was resisting a Russian invasion along effectively all of their shared border on Thursday, that country said, in what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as “an attack on freedom and democracy not just in Eastern Europe, but the world”.
NATO countries Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia invoked emergency provisions of that alliance, which said it was making further defensive preparations.
NATO, and the governments and security councils of various countries were due to meet during the course of Thursday. Additional sanctions targeting Russia, and moves to sever trade ties, are expected from those meetings.
On Wednesday, the South African government called on Russia “to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine” and on the UN Security Council to “play its role in the search for peace”. It did not say what steps it would take if Russia did not heed the call.
South Africa has been actively building trade ties with Russia, notably via the Brics association. In January, the South African embassy hosted a wine-tasting in Yekaterinburg, as part of ongoing efforts to promote South African agricultural exports.
Such efforts have attracted significant investment into Russia, according to Russian numbers, though less so the other way; according to the Russian embassy, South Africa has some R77 billion worth of investment in Russia, while Russian investments in South Africa total closer to R23 billion.
Much of South Africa’s economic ties to Russia is via large listed companies, but not exclusively so. Russia is a key market for Stellenbosch-based Zest Fruit, which exports large volumes of apples, pears, and other fruits there.
For some companies, the exposure can be easily quantified. AB Inbev, the giant brewer that includes SABMiller, has its 50% joint-venture in Russia, AB Inbev Efes, on its books at a value of R17 billion.
For other companies, exposure is more complex. Naspers is a major shareholder in Mail.ru (now known as VK) a key internet player in Russia, and has continued to pump money into it, some R380 million in 2020 that took its effective stake to 27%. It also participated in a R9 billion debt issue by the Russian company later in 2020 – alongside other shareholders in which it has cross-ownership, Prosus and Tencent. At the Russian company’s current market cap, the Naspers stake is worth some R7.6 billion.
Yellow-gear maker Bell Equipment owns 100% of its Russian subsidiary, established in 2011 as a “beachhead”, which its corporate structure bundles with operations in the likes of Germany and Australia. That Russian company supports an independent dealer network.
Fellow heavy-equipment company Barloworld has recently described its Russian operations as a star performer, in a Eurasian business that also covers Mongolia. It ascribed some 75% of a R1.2 billion operating profit in that part of the world in 2020 to Russia. By September, Barloworld said, its Eurasian order book stood at R3.4 billion – and 88% of firm orders were in Russia.
None of the companies immediately responded to a request for comment.
* Business Insider South Africa is part of 24.com, a division of Media24, which is a subsidiary of Naspers.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet, additional reporting by Amanda Khumalo)