Trilateral exercises featuring the navies of South Africa, Russia, and China are expected to kick off in the Indian Ocean off the port cities of Durban and Richards Bay on Friday, according to the South African Defense Ministry.“South Africa will host the Chinese and Russian Federation navies in a multilateral maritime exercise between February 17 and 27,” the South African military said in a statement last month. The drills are aimed at assisting in “joint disaster systems management enhancement, maritime cooperation, and anti-piracy experience.” Some 350 personnel will feature in the 10-day joint exercise dubbed ‘Mosi II’, the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) said.Among Russia’s participating vessels is the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, which docked in Cape Town on Monday before continuing on to Durban. The ship is equipped with Zircon hypersonic missiles, which have a range of 620 miles and travel at nine times the speed of sound. A source “close to Russia’s defense industry” told TASS earlier this month that the Zircon missiles will be tested during the drills.
South African opposition figures have criticized the timing of the drills, which coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. Primary opposition party the Democratic Alliance claimed that the exercises mean their country is effectively picking a side in the conflict.South Africa has technically maintained a position of neutrality throughout the hostilities in Ukraine. It abstained from a UN vote condemning Russia’s military offensive, while refusing to join US and EU sanctions imposed on Moscow.The three nations conducted similar exercises in 2019. South Africa responded to criticism by noting that it routinely engages in naval exercises with other nations such as France and the US.