Russia and China will hold naval exercises in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa next month in another sign of strengthening their ties with Africa’s most developed nation amid the war in Ukraine and global financial uncertainty. South African armed forces said on Thursday they and the Russian and Chinese navies would engage in “a multinational maritime exercise” near the cities of Durban and Richards Bay on South Africa’s east coast from February 17-27.
The exercise will take place around the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and will focus more on South Africa’s refusal – a major voice on its continent – to side with the West and condemn Russia’s actions. The announcement comes days before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to visit South Africa and hold talks with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor.
The South African government last year, said it took a neutral stance on Ukraine and called for dialogue and diplomacy, but an upcoming naval exercise has prompted the country’s main opposition party to accuse it of effectively siding with Russia. The South African government has denied that it has taken sides and has called for an end to the war in Ukraine.
But the South African National Defense Force, which comprises all of its armed forces, said next month’s naval exercise would “strengthen the already flourishing ties between South Africa, Russia and China.” The SANDF said the aim of the exercise was to “share operational skills and knowledge”.
The three countries also held similar naval exercises in Cape Town in 2019, while Russia and China held joint naval exercises in the East China Sea last month. South Africa, a major Western partner, was one of several African countries that abstained from a UN vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion. The United States and the European Union hoped that South Africa would support the international condemnation of Russia and act as a leader for other countries in Africa.
President Joe Biden hosted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the White House in September after they differed over the war in Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Africa last year. Experts have warned of a rise in Russia’s military influence in Africa since it annexed parts of Ukraine for the first time in 2014, while the Biden administration is also seeking to gain access to Africa’s natural resources markets after decades of entrenched China. Recognizes the importance of strengthening ties on the continent. Improving relations with South Africa is central to the US effort to limit Russian and Chinese influence.
The South African government drew more attention to its stance regarding Russia in October when it said it would allow a Superyacht belonging to Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov to dock in Cape Town, despite being under US and EU sanctions. will allow The South African government has also been accused of allowing another sanctioned Russian ship to dock at a naval base near Cape Town in December.
South Africa’s ties with Russia are largely due to the support given by the Soviet Union to Ramaphosa’s now-ruling African National Congress party in the fight to end apartheid, a regime of repression against the country’s black majority. Apartheid ended in 1994 when the ANC won the first democratic elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president.