South Africa defends planned military exercises with Russia and China

  • Russian Lavrov visits for talks with key African ally
  • Then we will head to Eswatini, Botswana and Angola
  • South Africa’s Pandora says navy drills are ‘natural’
  • President Ramaphosa considers South Africa a neutral party

PRETORIA, Jan 23 (Reuters) – South Africa’s foreign minister on Monday deflected criticism of planned joint military drills with Russia and China, saying holding such drills with “friends” was the “course natural of relationships.

Naledi Pandor made the comments during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa 11 months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A South African official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak, said Lavrov would then travel to Eswatini, Botswana and Angola.

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

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

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

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

“All countries conduct military exercises with friends from all over the world. This is the natural course of relations,” Pandor, alongside Lavrov, told reporters 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.

The government of President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed a desire to mediate in the Ukrainian conflict as a neutral party.

Pandor pointed out that although South Africa initially called on Russia to unilaterally withdraw from Ukraine, that was no longer its position.

“Repeating this…to Mr. Lavrov today would make me sound quite simplistic and childish, given the massive arms transfer (to Ukraine)…and all that has happened (since),” she said.

NEUTRALITY

South Africa has little trade with Russia but champions a worldview – favored by China and Russia – that seeks to undo perceived US hegemony in favor of a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is more diffuse.

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

The South African 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 next-generation hypersonic cruise weapons will take part in the drills.

Lavrov was visiting ahead of a Russia-Africa summit in July. There has been no official public comment from the Ukrainian embassy, ​​but officials said it has asked the South African government to help advance a Ukrainian peace plan.

Pandor said South Africa would not be drawn into taking sides and accused the West of condemning Russia while ignoring issues such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

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

Reporting by Carien Du Plessis, Anait Miridzhanian, Alexander Winning and Estelle Shirbon, writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Timothy Heritage and Philippa Fletcher

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