South Africa will next month go ahead with naval exercises off its eastern coast with Russian and Chinese warships in a decision that could further strain its relationship with some of its biggest trading partners.
Operation Mosi, which means smoke, will take place from February 17 to February 26. South Africa’s reluctance to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its decision to allow sanctioned Russian vessels to dock at its ports have already ramped up tensions with the US, UK and European Union who are backing Ukraine in the conflict. The country’s biggest opposition party questioned the wisdom of going ahead with the exercises.
“This gives the impression of not being neutral but being biased to one side. Clearly it can alienate us from other important trade partners, the west,” said Kobus Marais, the shadow defense minister for the Democratic Alliance. “This is in the best interests of Russia,” Marais said, calling it “another bad judgment, an embarrassment.”
While the exercise follows a similar event in 2019, it comes about a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, an event that brought into the open South Africa’s close ties with Russia due to historical support for the African country’s liberation struggle and their joint membership of the BRICS group of nations.
The US, Germany, Japan and the UK are leading trading partners for South Africa, while Russia isn’t in the top 15. Spokespeople from South Africa’s defense ministry and navy didn’t answer calls made to their phones or immediately reply to emails.