South Africa defends planned military exercises with Russia and China

  • Russia’s Lavrov visits for talks with key African ally
  • South Africa’s Pandor says naval exercises are “natural”.
  • President Ramaphosa sees South Africa as a neutral party

PRETORIA, Jan. 23 (Reuters) – South Africa’s foreign minister on Monday dismissed criticism of joint military exercises planned with Russia and China, saying organizing such exercises with “friends” would be the “natural course of business” was.

Naledi Pandor made her remarks during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa eleven months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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

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

South Africa says it is impartial on the conflict in Ukraine 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 the east coast from February 17-27.

“All countries conduct military exercises with friends around the world. It is the natural order of things,” Pandor and Lavrov told reporters in the capital, Pretoria.

The exercise will begin 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 its wish to mediate in the conflict in Ukraine as a neutral party.

“As South Africa, we consistently articulate that we will always stand ready to support the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the (African) continent and around the world,” Pandor said in previous remarks.

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 had provided all relevant information.

Pandor has said South Africa will not be swept up in taking sides, and has criticized the West for condemning Russia and ignoring issues such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

The South African Armed Forces said last week that the exercise was a “means of strengthening the already thriving relationship between South Africa, Russia and China”.

The Russian news agency TASS reported on Monday that a Russian warship armed with new-generation hypersonic cross weapons would participate in the exercises.

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

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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