New Delhi: South Africa is going ahead with naval exercises off its east coast with Russian and Chinese warships next month, the decision which could further strain its relationship with some of its biggest trading partners in the West.
Tensions with the US, UK, and European Union, which are supporting Ukraine in the conflict, have already risen as a result of South Africa’s refusal to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its decision to permit sanctioned Russian boat to dock at its port.
South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA), the government’s main opposition, has questioned the government’s move of going ahead with the exercises.
According to Times Live, the exercise tagged Operation Mosi, which means “smoke” will take place from 17 to 26 February.
“This gives the impression of not being neutral but being biased to one side. Clearly, it can alienate us from important trade partners, the West,” Vanguard News, a daily news publication in Nigeria, quoted DA shadow Defence Minister Kobus Marais as saying.
“This is in the best interests of Russia,” Marais said, calling it “another bad judgement, an embarrassment.”
The exercise has been questioned as it will commence a year after Russia invaded despite the fact that there was a similar event in 2019.
South Africa’s Defence Minister Thandi Modise had last week said that the US had been pressuring African nations over any links with Moscow.
Russia’s ‘Lady R’ was allowed to enter Simon’s Town navy base in early December with its transponders turned off and freely move cargo there.
Modise had last month declined to reveal what cargo the ship was carrying, only saying that “whatever contents this vessel was getting were ordered long before Covid,” which emerged in late 2019.
“Washington threatens Africa, not just South Africa, of having anything that is even smelling of Russia,” Modise was quoted as saying by WSJ.
Under the US law, Washington can place sanctions on any entity that provides services to a blacklisted ship.
Darren Olivier, who heads African Defense Review consulting company, said it was plausible that the ‘Lady R’ was bringing an old order of Russian ammunition to South Africa.
“Moscow and Pretoria agreed a shipment of 4.5 million rounds of Russian ammunition worth around $5,85,000 back in 2020,” WSJ report quoted Olivier as saying.
According to the senior US official, the US embassy warned Pretoria in November that a sanctioned vessel was about to arrive in the country, but the South African authorities did not respond.