February 17, 2023 at 00:12 GMT
Updated 43 minutes ago
Image source, Getty Images
The Russian fleet led by the warship Admiral Gorshkov
South Africa is launching a joint military exercise with Russia and China, which opposition officials say is tantamount to endorsing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The US has also criticized the 10-day naval drills that will continue over the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
But the South African government says it remains neutral on the conflict and routinely conducts similar drills with other countries, including France and the US.
What are South Africa, Russia and China doing?
Mosi II’s naval exercises take place in the Indian Ocean off the South African coast.
Russia has announced that it will send its warship Admiral Gorshkov, equipped with Zircon hypersonic missiles. These fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 1,000 km (620 miles).
Moscow “will try to show that despite the setbacks in the Ukraine war, its armed forces are still very strong,” says Denys Reva of the South African Institute for Security Studies.
The SANDF has said little about the upcoming exercise, but a joint exercise between the three countries in 2019 involved seven ships – one warship from each nation, plus tankers and survey vessels.
They practiced fighting coastal fires and floods and recapturing ships from pirates.
Why is this exercise controversial?
A White House spokesman said in January, “The United States has concerns about any country … training with Russia while Russia wages a brutal war on Ukraine.”
South Africa previously abstained in a UN vote condemning the invasion. It also refused to join the US and Europe in imposing sanctions on Russia.
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The North Superyacht in Hong Kong
The sanctioned Russian cargo ship Lady R was also allowed to offload supplies at a South African naval base. The government said it included a late order for ammunition.
South Africa notes that it has held four joint exercises with the US and exercises with France and Germany since 2011.
“All countries around the world are conducting military exercises with friends,” said Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor during a visit to her country by her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in January.
Why is South Africa participating?
South Africa is also participating because its armed forces are underfunded and overstretched, says Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
The Navy’s priorities are protecting fisheries in its home waters and fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean.
“It needs to join forces with other nations to be able to deal with things off its shores like piracy,” she says.
South African Foreign Minister Nalida Pandor received a visit from her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in January
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa also has longstanding relations with Russia.
These date back to the years of white minority rule before 1994, says Dr. Alex Vines of the Chatham House think tank in London.
“The senior leaders in the ANC still have an emotional bond with Moscow because it has consistently supported their struggle,” he says. “It makes it very difficult for South Africa to turn its back on Russia over Ukraine.”
Russia, China and South Africa also have modern connections because they are all members of the Brics Alliance.
The group, which also includes Brazil and India, represents some of the world’s leading emerging markets.
What do Russia and China want?
Ms Sidiropoulos says Russia has more to gain from this year’s drill than anyone.
“It shows that Russia can still project its power far and that it still has allies around the world.
“With that they can say that the world is not against Russia. Only the West is against Russia.”
China is keen to keep shipping lanes open for merchant ships traveling from its ports to African destinations, says Dr. vines
It also wants to establish its naval power in the Indian Ocean off the African coast.
“It’s about getting its navy into international waters.
“China is already using Djibouti on the East African coast as a naval base to combat piracy, and it may be hoping for more bases.”