Hungary refused to let the aircraft into its airspace after Polish authorities blocked dozens of South African security personnel.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has had to travel to Russia without dozens of his bodyguards, after authorities at Warsaw airport denied entry to a planeload of security personnel and members of the press pool and Hungary then refused to let the plane enter its airspace.
One of the journalists told RT on Saturday that Budapest’s decision did not affect Ramaphosa’s visit to St. Petersburg. The head of state is already in Russia, having arrived separately with a smaller contingent.
South African reporter Queenin Masuabi confirmed the situation in a Twitter post, saying: “our government have been unable to secure access [to] Hungarian airspace.” She added that “members of the Presidential Protection Unit, along with journalists, will not be traveling to Russia.”
On Thursday, the Polish Border Security Service denied members of Ramaphosa’s security team, consisting of more than 100 personnel, along with 20 reporters, permission to disembark from their plane at the capital’s Chopin Airport.
According to one of the journalists stranded on board, who spoke to RT, Polish officials had demanded that members of the South African Presidential Protection Services (PPS) surrender their weapons, claiming that they did not have the correct permits to bring them into the country.
One member of the team was even reportedly strip-searched by Polish police, despite holding a diplomatic passport.
“That’s never happened before in all the years of travel by the PPS. This is now a diplomatic row,” the reporter told RT, describing the “hostile welcome” as completely unexpected.
Another journalist on the plane said Polish authorities allowed the delegation to leave the aircraft on Friday after a more-than-24-hour wait.
Ramaphosa’s head of security, Major General Wally Rhoode, accused Warsaw of attempting to sabotage Pretoria’s efforts to secure a truce between Ukraine and Russia.
Polish authorities, in turn, insisted that Ramaphosa’s delegation chose not to disembark from the plane of their own accord. The Polish Foreign Ministry clarified that the flight had been delayed after discovering “dangerous materials” and “undeclared individuals” on board.
As a result, Ramaphosa had to travel to Kiev without members of his security detail on Friday. The South African head of state, along with senior officials from Senegal, Egypt, Zambia and the Comoros, met with President Vladimir Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital.
They put forward a roadmap aimed at a cessation of hostilities between Kiev and Moscow, which the Ukrainian leadership treated without much enthusiasm.
On Saturday, the African Peace Mission arrived in St. Petersburg for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Image credit: Maria Tyutina