Russia and South Africa defend joint naval drills and accuse US of hypocrisy

By John Eligon

PRETORIA – The top diplomats from Russia and South Africa pushed back Monday (23) at criticism of their countries’ decision to hold joint naval exercises with China, accusing the United States of hypocrisy and of trying to dictate the diplomatic and military relations of other nations.

“I don’t understand how this can provoke a mixed reaction,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said during a joint news conference with his South African counterpart in Pretoria, the South African capital.

“Maybe only with our American colleagues because they believe that only they can have exercises all over the world,” Lavrov added. “Not only on their more than 200 military bases all over the world, but at any place.”

Lavrov’s visit to Pretoria came days after South Africa’s military announced that it planned to hold joint training exercises off its coast with Russia and China next month, coinciding with the anniversary of the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The announcement drew sharp criticism from the United States, which has forged a decades-long strategic partnership with South Africa and has been trying to rally other countries to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine. David Feldmann, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Pretoria, expressed “concern” over the drills.

“We encourage South Africa to cooperate militarily with fellow democracies that share our mutual commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” he said.

Analysts say the naval exercise is a show of diplomatic independence for South Africa and a signal from Pretoria that it will not allow the war in Ukraine to dictate its foreign relations.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor of South Africa, speaking alongside Lavrov at the news conference, said that African nations needed to resist being held to a double standard by other countries that say “what I do is OK for me but you cannot do it because you are a developing country or you are Africa.”

“That is an abuse of international practice,” Pandor added. “All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide. So there should be no compulsion on any country that it should conduct them with any other partners.”

Pandor said that the visiting Russian delegation had briefed her on the war in Ukraine.

“We reiterated, as I’ve done publicly, South Africa’s desire that there be a diplomatic solution and that negotiations should be something all of us work toward,” she said, and suggested that negotiations be done through the United Nations.

South Africa has conducted military exercises with Russia and China before, as well as with the United States and NATO countries. The South African National Defence Force said that the upcoming drills, to be held from Feb. 17-27 near the coastal towns of Durban and Richards Bay, are a “means to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”

-New York Times



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