South Africa defends controversial naval exercises with Russia

South Africa’s military has defended its decision to host controversial naval exercises with Russia and China that began Wednesday, shortly before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and have Westerners worried.
“There is a difference between the military and the political,” General Siphiwe Sangweni, head of joint operations in the South African armed forces, told a news conference at the eastern port of Richards Bay.
The army is “guided by the government” but must also learn new skills from other armies to protect the country and contribute to international peacekeeping missions, he explained.
“Other countries will certainly have a different approach than us” to these joint exercises with Russia and China, but “each country is sovereign and has the right to handle things as it sees fit,” he stressed. “Cooperation and coordination with all other militaries is something very important to us,” Sangweni added.
South Africa announced last month that it was organizing the joint exercises with the Russian and Chinese Marines “to share operational skills and knowledge,” and said Russia was the lead nation.
The operations, which involve more than 350 South African military personnel, will continue for several days off Durban (south-east), the largest port in southern Africa on the Indian Ocean, and Richards Bay, some 180 km further north. A Russian military frigate equipped with hypersonic Zircon missiles and a Chinese warship are expected to participate.
South Africa has claimed to take a neutral stance since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow and saying it prefers dialogue to end the war.
These joint naval exercises with Russia are causing concern in the United States and the European Union, which consider them particularly inappropriate a few days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion launched on February 24.