SA won't abandon 'neutral position' on Russia-Ukraine conflict - defence ministry

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Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise
PHOTO: Lucky Nxumalo
  • South Africa will host the Chinese and Russian navies in February for maritime exercises.
  • Known as Exercise Mosi II, the exercises will take place in Durban and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal for about 10 days.
  • The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans maintained that it won't abandon its neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Despite worldwide criticism, South Africa will not abandon its neutral stance on Russia's war on Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans said on Monday.

"Contrary to the assertions by our critics, South Africa is not abandoning its neutral position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict," the ministry said in a statement.

It added that it would "remain firm in our view that multilateralism and dialogue are keys to unlock sustainable international peace".

Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, sparking a protracted war and sanctions by the west. While Russian forces have faced stiff resistance from Ukraine, suffering significant losses, it has annexed four regions of Ukraine.

In October, South Africa abstained from a United Nations vote on Russia's annexation of the regions. Previously, the country also abstained from a vote on whether to suspend Russia from the UN's Human Rights Council.

The ministry's statement comes as the SA government prepares to host the People's Liberation Army Navy from China and the Russian Federal Navy during the multilateral maritime exercise scheduled to take place from 17 to 27 February.

READ | South Africa abstains from UN vote on Russia's annexation of Ukraine territories

Known as Exercise Mosi II (Two), the maritime exercise will take place in Durban and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa, like any independent and sovereign state, has a right to conduct its foreign relations in line with its own diplomatic relations and national interests, the government said.

"South Africa sees Exercise Mosi II as an opportunity to contribute towards further strengthening the strong bonds that exist between South Africa, Russia and China."

This will be the second such exercise involving the three naval forces. The first one was held in November 2019 in Cape Town, the ministry said.

This year's exercise will see more than 350 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel from various arms of services and divisions participate alongside their Russian and Chinese counterparts, he added.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise said she was confident the exercise would "benefit all three participating nations".

She continued: 

The envisaged exercise will benefit all countries involved through interoperability of the naval systems, joint disaster systems management enhancement, maritime cooperation and anti-piracy exercises.

In addition, Exercise Mosi II will serve as a platform for the three nations to share operational skills, expertise and experience, she said.

SA enjoys diplomatic relations with all member states of Brics (Brazil, Russia and China) at a bilateral level, in addition to multilateral levels, said the ministry.

"We also enjoy defence diplomatic relations with several countries across all the continents of the world, since we have become an integral part of the community of nations and no longer a pariah state."

The ministry said that in recent months, South Africa had engagements with counterparts in the United Kingdom, the People's Republic of China, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.

It added:

There was no hype about any of these countries, especially with regard to the USA wherein we held an even longer exercise, known as Exercise Shared Accord, in KwaZulu-Natal last year regarding our military health capabilities.

Exercise Shared Accord, planned and executed by the United States Army Southern European Task Force, features several key exercises occurring simultaneously, including a medical training exercise, field training exercises and a training segment.

The SANDF plans and budgets for military exercises with other nations across the globe, both at bilateral and multilateral levels, and Exercise Mosi II was no exception, the ministry pointed out.

It added that a biennial maritime Exercise Oxide between South Africa and France took place in November last year at the Simon's Town Naval Base.

Meanwhile, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor was meeting with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Pretoria on Monday.

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