Why is South Africa’s navy joining exercises with Russia and China?

Lazy eyes listen


South Africa will begin a joint military exercise with Russia and China soon.

The naval drills, which coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have been condemned by the United States.

What are the actions of South Africa, Russia, and China?
The 10-day naval exercise will begin on February 17 in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of South Africa.

According to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), 350 members of its armed forces will participate.

Russia has announced the deployment of the Admiral Gorshkov warship, which is armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles. These can travel at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

“Moscow will try to demonstrate that, despite its setbacks in the Ukraine war, its armed forces are still very powerful,” says Denys Reva of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

The SANDF hasn’t said much about the upcoming exercise, but a joint drill between the three countries in 2019 involved seven ships – one warship from each nation, as well as fueling and survey ships.

They practiced fighting coastal fires and floods, as well as recapturing pirate ships.

Why is this exercise contentious?
“The United States has concerns about any country… exercising with Russia as Russia wages a brutal war against Ukraine,” a White House spokesperson said in January.

South Africa previously voted against the invasion in a UN vote. It also refused to join the United States and Europe in sanctioning Russia.

The Nord superyacht, which is linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov, was granted permission to dock in Cape Town.

Lady R, a sanctioned Russian cargo ship, was also permitted to unload supplies at a South African naval base. According to the government, it contained a delayed order for ammunition.

Since 2011, South Africa has held four joint exercises with the United States, as well as drills with France and Germany.

“All countries conduct military exercises with friends all over the world,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in January, during a visit to her country by her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

She said that trying to stop South Africa from conducting joint military exercises with the countries of its choice amounted to “an abuse of international practice”.

Why is South Africa participating?
According to Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, head of the South African Institute of International Affairs, South Africa is participating because its armed forces are underfunded and overstretched.

The navy’s top priorities are to protect its home waters’ fisheries and to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.

“It needs to work with other countries to be able to deal with issues off its coast, such as piracy,” she says.