Russian warship conducting joint military drills with China and South Africa

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South Africa has put itself on a collision course with the West by conducting military drills with Russia over the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, the country’s opposition leaders have claimed. Russian warships docked off the port of Durban, South Africa, for ten days of joint military drills and navy exercises including live ammunition on targets, with Chinese and South African navies. South Africa’s opposition leaders are growing concerned the move suggested an embrace of Moscow.

Darren Bergman, Shadow Minister for International Relations and Cooperation and MP for the country’s official opposition party told The i his country could be on a slippery slope and join Belarus in being “charged with complicity”.

He said: “If Belarus can be charged with complicity, why can’t South Africa?… I believe this will have consequences.

“I believe this will have consequences.”

The exercise, known as Mosi-2, is the second known military drill carried out by Russia, China and South Africa together in the Indian Ocean.

The three countries had conducted similar exercises off the coast of Cape Town in 2019.

Mr Bergan believes this latest move “will definitely have an impact when it comes to trade agreements and aid.”

He added: “Any further exclusion from the international community is going to be hugely damaging [to South Africa’s struggling economy].”

The country has been graylisted by the global anti-money laundering and terrorism financing watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which exposes it to increased scrutiny by investors and financial institutions worldwide.

The latest sign of complicity between Russia and South Africa has drawn the ire of Mr Bergan’s party, the Democratic Alliance, which expressed outrage at the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Civil society also slammed South Africa’s closer ties with Russia.

“We are concerned mainly that the South Africa government has welcomed Russian military aggression into the previously peaceful waters of the Southern Ocean,” said in a statement issued jointly by The Green Connection, Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Kai Tikquoa Conservancy and the Ukrainian Association of South Africa.

The United States also raised concerns over South Africa’s decision to hold joint military exercises with Russia.

“The United States has concerns about any country … exercising with Russia as Russia wages a brutal war against Ukraine,” said the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

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South Africa has repeatedly emphasised its neutrality to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has pushed for negotiations in official calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and even offered to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Naledi Pandor defended the country’s decision, with the foreign minister saying: “All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide.”

While meeting her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, she added: “There should be no compulsion on any country that it should conduct them with any other partners.”

She said the exercises were “part of a natural course of relations between countries,” adding that Pretoria should not be denied “the right to participate” in the drills.

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