Feb. 27, 2023 (GIN) – On the heels of a near-unanimous vote at the U.N. condemning Russia over its war on Ukraine, South Africa will be hosting 10 day joint naval exercises with Russia and China.
Opposition figures are calling this an endorsement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
South Africa’s government says it remains neutral regarding the conflict, and that it routinely hosts similar drills with other countries, including France and the U.S.
The naval exercises, called Mosi, which means “smoke” in the Tswana language, are taking place in the Indian Ocean, off the South African coast. 350 members of its armed forces will take part.
Russia will be sending its Admiral Gorshkov warship which carries Zircon hypersonic missiles. These fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles.
Moscow “will be trying to show that despite its setbacks in the war in Ukraine, its armed forces are still very powerful”, said Denys Reva from South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.
The U.N. vote called on Russia to immediately withdraw from the Ukraine and end the fighting. Thirty-two countries abstained from voting, while seven countries, including South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Mali refused to endorse it.
“All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide,” said South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, during a visit by her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in January.
Trying to stop South Africa from conducting joint military exercises with the countries of its choice amounted to “an abuse of international practice”, she said.
African nations abstaining from the vote included Burundi, Algeria, Angola, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
In an interview last March with Bloomberg News, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said “(the position of) neutrality can cost… and fortunately, we’re not alone in all this, there are many others that have chosen the same path. The benefit in all this is that we can talk to both sides.”
Last year, Kenya, then a member of the UN Security Council, deplored Russia’s invasion, calling it a resurgence of new colonialism.
“We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression,” Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN said at the time.
The non-binding vote means Ukraine has gained two more African backers than last year in March.