Western diplomats have publicly expressed their anger over the timing of the ongoing 10-day naval exercises in the Indian Ocean between South Africa, Russia, and China. Political analysts have also warned the South African government that it runs the risk of embarrassing itself and angering its Western allies.
Steven Gruzd, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs, stated that “The timing of these exercises is especially regrettable since it will draw attention to South Africa, and its Western allies will not be pleased.”
In addition, Liubov Abravitova, the ambassador of Ukraine to South Africa, said: “It is very disturbing that South Africa is hosting a military exercise with an aggressor and invader — that is using its military force against a peaceful country, bringing destruction, and trying to eliminate the Ukrainian Nation.
“The United States and nations in the European Union, which support Ukraine the most, are also significant trading partners for South Africa. Russian economic relations with South Africa are not as strong as the two-way trade between the US and the European Union with that country. It would have been wiser to postpone the naval drills.
Cold War Allies
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa has strong ties to Moscow that are difficult to sever. According to Obey Mabena, a former member of the ANC’s armed wing, “We are automatically on Russia’s side; we consider Ukraine a sellout.” However, many ANC leaders have stated that he does not speak for the South African government.
Like many of his generation, Mabena was forced to leave South Africa in the 1970s by the brutality of the country’s police under apartheid. Many South African youth who were living in exile joined the armed wing of liberation organizations like the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress.
At their training facilities in other African nations, Russian advisors were frequently present. “We discovered that Russia was willing to provide us with anything we needed, and for the first time we came across white people who treated us as equals.” “They gave us food, they gave us uniforms, they trained us, and they gave us weapons.” Mabena remarked
With the development of BRICS, the economic and diplomatic relationship of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, South Africa’s ties to Russia have only grown stronger in recent years. Refusing to participate in the joint naval drills would have been an affront to China, a much more significant economic partner, as well as to Russia.
The top diplomat for South Africa referred to some of the criticism of the naval drills as “double standards.” South Africa, along with other African countries, voted against condemning Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory in the UN General Assembly.
According to Naledi Pandor, minister of international affairs and cooperation, South Africa believed that the best course of action we could take was to abstain from voting. She asserts that the international community should aim for a diplomatic settlement between Russia and Ukraine under UN supervision. Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, has offered to mediate such negotiations.
He made the offer, but no one has accepted it. Yet, South Africa’s stance on the conflict hasn’t completely isolated the nation. At the beginning of the year, key American diplomats, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and others, all visited South Africa.
If, as is rumored, Russia tests a hypersonic Zircon missile from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov during the naval drills, South Africa may face much more condemnation. The long-range missiles are more difficult to detect and intercept than other missiles and fly at a speed of more than five times the speed of sound.
In the past, Putin has braggingly mentioned them. He claimed that no other country in the world has anything like it. “I am confident that such formidable weapons will dependably defend Russia from potential foreign threats and will support the preservation of our nation’s interests,” he continued.
The naval exercises in South Africa might prove to be another propaganda high point for the Russian leader, whose weaponry hasn’t performed as expected in the conflict in Ukraine. In addition, by remaining “neutral,” South Africa may be giving Putin a big victory on the anniversary of the war. It will be used by Russia as a propaganda tool, with the message being “We have friends; we have collaboration.”