Russia, China and South Africa will begin naval exercises Friday off South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast to demonstrate the close ties between the three countries amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s strained relations with the West.
The ten exercises, dubbed Musi II, coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrived in Cape Town earlier this week laden with the letters Z and V on its sides, letters referring to Russian weapons on the front lines in Ukraine and used as a national symbol in Russia.
In protest, a small yacht flying the flag of Ukraine was sailed into Cape Town harbor by the Russian frigate. South African protesters opposed to the drills are expected to demonstrate outside the Russian consulate in Cape Town on Friday.
The arrival of the Admiral Gorshkov has sparked controversy because it is armed with the latest hypersonic Zircon missiles, a weapon that Russia says can penetrate any missile defense to hit targets at sea and on land.
According to Russia’s state news agency TASS, the warship is to test the Zircon missile during joint naval exercises. The test will be the missile’s first launch in an international exercise.
Besides the Admiral Gorshkov, other ships taking part in the naval exercises will include a Russian supply tanker, a South African frigate and three Chinese ships – a destroyer, a frigate and a support ship, according to a statement by the South African military.
The joint naval exercises also come as China’s relations with Washington soured after its balloon sailed past the US and was eventually shot down by the US.
The naval exercises will be conducted from the ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Media coverage of the exercises was limited.
South Africa has faced internal criticism for its participation in the drills. The opposition Democratic Alliance said it was showing South Africa is not neutral in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The South African National Defense Forces simply referred to naval exercises with China and Russia as a “multinational naval exercise”.
The military said in a statement that the naval exercises “will strengthen the already thriving ties between South Africa, Russia and China” with the goal of sharing “practical skills and knowledge”.