South Africa has defended its decision to participate in a combined military exercise with China and Russia next month.
The “double-standard” that states some countries can conduct such drills but not others was denounced by foreign minister Naledi Pandor.
“All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide,” Dr Pandor added.
The remarks were made at a press conference with Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, in Pretoria.
A few protesters carrying Ukrainian flags gathered outside the venue for the event.
Dr. Pandor continued by denouncing as a “abuse of international practice” the idea that South Africa cannot conduct the military drills it desires.
“This is just a natural set of exercises that occur between countries,” she said.
The military of South Africa said last week that joint naval exercises with China and Russia would take place off its coast the following month.
However, some have argued that the drill is inappropriate because it falls on the same day as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There hasn’t been much information released regarding the exercises, but according to the state-owned Tass news agency, a Russian vessel outfitted with hypersonic cruise missiles will participate.
The scheduled exercises have also been defended by the Ministry of Defense, which noted that South Africa has previously held similar drills with the US, France, and other Western Nato member states.
The drills will take place in Richards Bay and the port city of Durban for ten days, from February 17 to February 27.
The South African National Defence Force stated that the goal is to exchange operational expertise and experience.
South Africa has remained neutral despite pressure from Western nations to denounce the Russian incursion, much to Ukraine’s dismay.
Speaking at the conference, Mr. Lavrov expressed his appreciation for South Africa’s “well balanced” and “considerate” stance to the conflict in Ukraine, which, according to Dr. Pandor of South Africa, must be resolved diplomatically and through diplomacy.
South African officials have consistently stated that while they do not support the invasion, they will not be pressured to choose a side and will continue to conduct business as usual with both nations.
South Africa has been criticized for adopting an evasive approach.
The relationship between South Africa’s leaders and Russia dates back to the struggle against apartheid, when certain members of the country’s liberation movement got military training there.
Through the growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICs), that relationship has developed into business partnerships in recent years.
Mr. Lavrov visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Congo-Brazzaville while he was in Africa in July 2022, so South Africa is not the only country that has refused to support a side in the conflict in Ukraine.
A resolution passed by the UN general assembly in March of last year condemning Russian “aggression” and calling for its removal from Ukraine was supported by several African countries, including Nigeria and Kenya, the continent’s economic powerhouses in West and East Africa, respectively.
But 17 of the abstentions, or over 50%, were from Africa, including South Africa.