South Africa defends planned military drills with Russia and China

  • Russia’s Lavrov visits key African ally for talks
  • South Africa’s Pandora says naval exercise ‘natural’
  • President Ramaphosa believes that South Africa is a neutral country

South Africa’s foreign minister on Monday dismissed criticism of planned joint military exercises with Russia and China, saying that holding such exercises with “friends” was a “natural course of relations”.

Naledi Pandor made the comments during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited South Africa 11 months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies in a continent divided by the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow over its military actions.

Some opposition parties and South Africa’s small Ukrainian community said Lavrov’s reception was insensitive.

South Africa says it is neutral on the Ukraine conflict and has abstained from voting on UN resolutions on the war.

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It has close ties to Moscow, a friend of the ruling African National Congress when it was a liberation movement against white minority rule, and will hold joint exercises with Russia and China on its east coast from February 17-27.

“All countries hold military exercises with friends around the world. This is a natural course of relations,” Pandora told reporters together with Lavrov in the capital Pretoria.

The exercise will take place on February 24, the first anniversary of what Russia calls its “special military operation”. Ukraine and its allies say Russia has launched an imperial land grab.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has expressed its willingness to mediate in the Ukraine conflict as a neutral country.

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“As South Africa, we have consistently stated that we will always be ready to support the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the (African) continent and around the world,” Pandora said in earlier remarks.

NEUTRALITY

South Africa trades little with Russia, but supports a worldview shared by China and Russia that seeks to eliminate US hegemony in favor of a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is more dispersed.

Lavrov said the military exercises were transparent and that Russia, China and South Africa provided all the necessary information.

Pandora said South Africa would not take sides and criticized the West for condemning Russia and ignoring issues such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

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South Africa’s armed forces said last week that the exercise was “a means of strengthening the already flourishing relationship between South Africa, Russia and China”.

Russian news agency TASS reported on Monday that a Russian warship armed with a new generation of hypersonic cruise weapons will take part in the exercise.

Lavrov’s visit comes six months before a Russia-Africa summit in July. The Ukrainian embassy has not officially commented publicly, but officials said it has asked the South African government to help implement Ukraine’s peace plan.

Reporting by Carien Du Plessis, Anait Miridzhanian, Alexander Winning and Estelle Shirbon Writing by Tim Cocks Editing by Timothy Heritage

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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