Secretary Blinken said he understood the reasons for South Africa's ties with Russia while acknowledging regret for Washington's "sympathetic" approach to the apartheid-era regime in South Africa.
"The Soviet Union was supportive of the freedom forces in South Africa, and of course unfortunately, more than unfortunately, the United States was much too sympathetic to the apartheid regime, so that history also doesn’t get erased, you know, overnight, it's a process," Blinken said.
The African National Congress party, which has governed South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994, had strong ties to the former Soviet Union, which trained and supported anti-apartheid activists during the Cold War.
Nelson Mandela, South Africa's anti-apartheid hero, who died in 2013 and was a global icon, was regarded with suspicion by Washington during the Cold War and was even on the U.S. terrorism watch list in that era.
Regarding South Africa, India, and other nations long supportive of Moscow, Blinken, in his interview with The Atlantic, added that "There are countries that have long-standing, decades-long relationships with Russia, with the Soviet Union before, that are challenging to break off in one fell swoop. It's not flipping a light switch, it’s moving an aircraft carrier."