- Russia’s Lavrov is on a visit to hold talks with a key African ally.
- South Africa’s Pandora says the naval exercises are “natural”.
- President Ramaphosa sees South Africa as a neutral party.
PRETORIA, Jan 23 (Reuters) – South Africa’s foreign minister on Monday dismissed criticism of joint military exercises with Russia and China, saying hosting such drills with “friends” was a “natural way of engaging”. .
Naledi Pandor made her comments during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa 11 months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies in a continent divided over Western efforts to isolate Moscow over the invasion and its military operations.
Some opposition parties and South Africa’s small Ukrainian community have said hosting Lavrov is insensitive.
South Africa says it is neutral on the Ukraine conflict and has abstained from voting on UN resolutions on the war.
It has close ties to Moscow, a friend of the ruling African National Congress when it was an independence movement opposed to white minority rule, and held joint exercises with Russia and China on its east coast from February 17 to 27. will be hosted by
“All countries conduct joint military exercises with friends around the world. This is a natural way of relations,” Pandor told reporters in the capital Pretoria, accompanied by Lavrov.
The drills will begin on February 24, the first anniversary of what Russia calls its “special military operation.” Ukraine and its allies say that Russia has begun occupying imperial land.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has expressed its willingness to mediate the Ukraine conflict as a neutral party.
“As South Africa, we have consistently said that we will always be ready to support the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the (African) continent and around the world,” Pandor said in earlier remarks.
South Africa has little trade with Russia but champions a global approach – favored by China and Russia – that seeks to end perceived US hegemony in favor of a “multipolar” world in which geographical Political power is more diffused.
Lavrov said the military exercises were transparent and that Russia, China and South Africa had provided all relevant information.
Pandor has said South Africa will not be dragged into becoming a party, and has criticized the West for condemning Russia while ignoring issues such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
South Africa’s armed forces said last week that the exercise was “a means of strengthening the already developing relationship between South Africa, Russia and China”.
Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Monday that a Russian warship equipped with a new-generation hypersonic cruise weapon will take part in the exercises.
Lavrov was visiting six months before the Russia-Africa summit in July. There was no official comment from the Ukrainian embassy, but officials said it had asked the South African government to help advance Ukraine’s peace plan.
(Reporting by Karen du Plessis, Anit Mirzahanian, Alexander Winning and Estelle Sherbin; Writing by Tim Cox; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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