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SA defends naval exercise with Russia and China

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South Africa defended its planned naval exercise with Russia and China next month amid criticism over its non-commital stance on the war in Ukraine.

South Africa’s Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans said it has conducted similar military maneuvers with the US, UK and France without attracting “hype.”

“South Africa, like any independent and sovereign state, has a right to conduct its foreign relations in line with its own diplomatic relations and national interests,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday. The exercise is aimed at “further strengthening the strong bonds that exist between South Africa, Russia and China,” it said.

The furore about the exercises starting February 17 on the country’s east coast comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to hold talks with his South African counterpart in the country on Monday and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is due to arrive on Tuesday.

South Africa has abstained on a number of United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Key government officials have made comments that have stoked criticism of the government’s approach to the conflict at a time when the Western nations opposing Russia’s action are among its main trading partners.

“Contrary to the assertions by our critics, South Africa is not abandoning its neutral position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict,” the ministry said. “We remain firm in our view that multilateralism and dialogue are keys to unlock sustainable international peace.”

While South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has historic ties to Russia, which supported the fight against apartheid, there are few economic links between the two nations.

© 2023 Bloomberg

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