South Africa: Russia, China to hold naval drills to strengthen ties
The South African armed forces have said that they and the Russian and Chinese navies will
engage in “a multinational maritime exercise” from Feb. 17-27 off South Africa’s east coast near
the cities of Durban and Richards Bay.
The announcement comes days before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to visit
South Africa and hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor.
Russia and China will conduct naval drills in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa next
month, in another indication of their strengthening relationships with Africa’s most developed
country amid the war in Ukraine and global financial uncertainty.
The drills will happen around the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb.
24 and will bring more focus on the push by Russia and China for global influence, and the
refusal of South Africa — a leading voice on its continent — to side with the West and condemn
Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The South African government said it has a neutral stance over Ukraine and has called for
dialogue and diplomacy, but the upcoming naval drills have led the country’s main opposition
party to accuse the government of effectively siding with Russia.
The South African government denies it has taken sides and has called for the end of the war.
But the South African National Defense Force, which incorporates all of its armed forces, said
next month’s naval exercise would “strengthen the already flourishing relations between South
Africa, Russia and China.” The aim of the drills was “sharing operational skills and knowledge,”
the SANDF said.
The three countries also conducted a similar naval exercise in 2019 in Cape Town, while Russia
and China held joint naval drills in the East China Sea last month.
South Africa, a key Western partner, was one of several African countries that abstained in a
United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion. The United States and the
European Union had hoped that South Africa would support the international condemnation of
Russia and act as a leader for other nations in Africa.
President Joe Biden hosted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the White House in
September, when a key talking point was their differences over the war in Ukraine. U.S.
secretary of state Antony Blinken visited South Africa last year.
Experts have warned of Russia’s increased military influence in Africa since it first annexed parts
of Ukraine in 2014, while the Biden administration also recognizes the importance of
strengthening relations on the continent after China has spent decades entrenching itself in
Africa’s natural resources markets.
Improving relations with South Africa is central to the U.S. effort of limiting Russian and Chinese
influence. Underlining that, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is also due to visit South Africa
next week to round off a three-country tour of Africa. Yellen’s South African visit starts two
days after Lavrov’s meeting with the South African foreign minister.
The South African government drew more attention over its stance regarding Russia in October
when it said it would allow a superyacht linked to Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov to dock in
Cape Town despite him being under U.S. and EU sanctions. South Africa was accused of
allowing another sanctioned Russian vessel to dock at a naval base near Cape Town in
South Africa’s relationship with Russia is largely tied to the support the Soviet Union gave to
Ramaphosa’s now-ruling African National Congress party in its fight to bring down apartheid,
the 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
South Africa is also a member of the BRICS bloc of emerging countries alongside Brazil, Russia,
India and China.