South Africa Confirms Upcoming Naval Drills With Russia, China

    South Africa Confirms Upcoming Naval Drills With Russia, China
    Last updated Jan 19, 2023
    Image credit: Xinhua/Picture Alliance [via DW]


    • South Africa confirmed on Thursday that it will host a "multilateral maritime exercise" with Russia and China off its coast in February, the second time that such an exercise is held in the presence of the three naval forces.[1]
    • The 10-day drills dubbed "Operation Mosi," which means "smoke" in the local Tswana language, will take place from Feb. 17 to 27 off the port cities of Durban and Richards Bay on the country's east coast.[2]
    • A statement from the South African military said the exercises were intended to strengthen "already flourishing relations" with China and Russia. Pretoria, which recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS group of nations, has so far declined to condemn Moscow over the Ukraine war.[3]
    • This joint exercise will reportedly see more than 350 South African Army personnel from various military branches and divisions collaborate on operational activities and information with their Russian and Chinese counterparts.[4]
    • Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance criticized the decision, accusing the government of abandoning its neutral stance on Russia and risking alienating South Africa from the West. Far ahead of Russia, the USA, Germany, Japan, and the UK are among the country's major trading partners.[5]
    • South Africa's announcement comes days before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's trip to the country and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's visit two days later to wrap up a three-country visit to Africa.[6]


    Narrative A

    It is outrageous that while Russia is raining missiles on Ukraine, Pretoria is confirming joint naval drills with Russia and the no less autocratic and increasingly aggressive China. And while the vast majority of South Africans believe that South Africa should stand by Ukraine, Pretoria's stance is not only immoral but downright foolish, given that the West, not Russia or even China, are South Africa's most important export destinations. Therefore, Pretoria's negligent alienation from its Western allies amounts to an act of political and economic denial that is likely to backfire.

    Narrative B

    While China and Russia are striving to absorb strategically important South Africa into their vision of a multipolar world order, Pretoria is trying to maintain a balanced position between the emerging BRICS and NATO. Therefore, the upcoming trilateral naval exercises should not be taken as evidence that South Africa is switching sides from NATO and the West to China and Russia. Moreover, South Africa's military doctrine, equipment, and tactics are still heavily dependent on the Western military block, with which it has held more drills with them than with China and Russia. BRICS collaboration doesn't translate to Western alienation.

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