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PoliticsSouth Africa

South Africa confirms naval drills with Russia and China

Louis Oelofse
January 19, 2023

The drills come about a year after Russia invaded Ukraine. The opposition charges the exercises reflect Pretoria's bias towards Moscow.

Russian and Chinese warships docked in Cape Town Harbor in 2019
This year's naval exercise follows a similar event in 2019Image: Chen Cheng/Xinhua/picture alliance

South Africa on Thursday confirmed plans to conduct joint military exercises with the Russian and Chinese navies off its east coast next month.

The South African National Defense Force said the war games were meant to "strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China."

It said the exercises would take place in the port cities of Durban and Richards Bay and involve 350 South African soldiers.

The drills are being called "Operation Mosi," which means smoke in Tswana — one of 11 official languages in South Africa. The exercises are set to run from February 17 to 26, a year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Symbolism of military exercises with Russia questioned

The country's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the "silly" exercises were being held at "an awkward time in global geopolitical history due to the Russian war in Ukraine."

The opposition party's shadow defense minister Kobus Marais said the joint maneuvers prove that the government is "biased." 

A survey conducted on behalf of the Brenthurst Foundation late last year found that 74.3% of South Africans believe that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "an act of aggression that must be condemned."

The authors of that survey on Monday described the planned exercises as "plain stupid and impractical."

In an op-ed in the Daily Maverick, Greg Mills and Ray Hartly wrote, "It highlights just how far" the country "has strayed from its relationships with Western allies."

South Africa did not condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has abstained in several votes at the United Nations.

Germany, France urge African solidarity with Ukraine

Lavrov expected in Pretoria

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected in South Africa's capital on Monday.

He will be hosted by the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor.

South Africa recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS, a grouping that brings it together with Brazil, Russia, India, and China to challenge the dominant US and European-led global governance structures.

Material from AFP contributed to this report.

Edited by: Amanda Rivkin