A Russian warship armed with new-generation hypersonic cruise weapons is to participate in joint exercises with the navies of China and South Africa next month, the Russian news agency TASS said yesterday.
It was the first official mention of the participation by the frigate, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov, which is armed with Zircon missiles.
The missiles fly at nine times the speed of sound, with a range of more than 1,000km, Russia says.
They form the centerpiece of its hypersonic arsenal, along with the Avangard glide vehicle that entered combat duty in 2019.
“Admiral Gorshkov ... will go to the logistic support point in Syria’s Tartus, and then take part in joint naval exercises with the Chinese and South African navies,” the agency said, citing an unidentified defense source.
On Thursday, the South African National Defence Force said the drills, to run from Feb. 17 to 27 near the port city of Durban and Richards Bay, aim “to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”
The exercise would be the second involving the three countries in South Africa, after a drill in 2019, the defense force added in its statement.
The Gorshkov this month held exercises in the Norwegian Sea after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent it to the Atlantic Ocean in a signal to the West that Moscow would not back down over the war in Ukraine.
Russia sees the weapons as a way to pierce increasingly sophisticated US missile defenses that Putin has warned could one day shoot down its nuclear missiles.
China, Russia and the US are in a race to develop hypersonic weapons, seen as a way to gain an edge over any adversary because of their speeds, greater than five times that of sound, and because they are harder to detect.
Meanwhile, South Africa defended the drills amid criticism over its noncommital stance on the war in Ukraine.
The South African Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans said it has conducted similar military maneuvers with the US, the UK and France without attracting “hype.”
“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 ministry said in a statement.
The exercise is aimed at “further strengthening the strong bonds that exist between South Africa, Russia and China,” it said.
The furor about the exercises comes as Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov yesterday arrived to hold talks with his South African counterpart, while US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is due to arrive today.
South Africa has abstained on a number of UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Key government officials have made comments that have stoked criticism of the government’s approach to the conflict at a time when the Western nations opposing Russia’s action are among its main trading partners.
“Contrary to the assertions by our critics, South Africa is not abandoning its neutral position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict,” the ministry said. “We remain firm in our view that multilateralism and dialogue are keys to unlock sustainable international peace.”
While South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has historic ties to Russia, which supported the fight against apartheid, there are few economic links between the two nations.
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