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The Meaning of South Africa-Russia and China Joint Exercises
27 Ocak 2023 14:29

It is seen that the African continent is becoming increasingly important in many respects. China and Russia are aware of this geostrategic importance of Africa. While the Western countries operating in these regions are at an obvious disadvantage due to their colonial past and practices in this period and are experiencing an increasingly evident loss of ground, China and Russia cooperate more easily due to their lack of a distinct colonial past and their positive approach to these regions. Moreover, China and Russia, which were in competition in the past due to their ideological differences, can act together in many areas in the current period. Russia's abandonment of the ideological approach after the Cold War, while China's approach to the region with the principles of "peaceful coexistence" and "stand by me and win" gives positive results. China is one of the countries with the largest foreign representation in Africa and stands out with the extensive economic agreements it has signed. On the other hand, it succeeds in carrying its cooperation to a cultural dimension with the non-governmental organizations and research centers it has established.

The Republic of South Africa, located in the southern tip of the African continent and bordering the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, is a country that draws attention in Africa with its population exceeding 60 million, an area of ​​1,219,912 square kilometers and its resources. The importance of the country's geopolitical position is indisputable. In an evaluation that can be made from a military point of view, South Africa is among the top 4 militarily powerful countries of the continent, along with Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria.  


South Africa, which implements a free market economy, is an exemplary country especially for Sub-Saharan African countries as a developing market, and it attracts great attention from developed countries with its current state of economy. As a result, South Africa has been a member of the BRICS (used to refer to the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and the Republic of South Africa) since 2011. As it is known, these countries are known as countries with a significant influence potential on regional relations in their areas, due to their population of approximately 3.5 billion (more than 40% of the world population) and the production of almost 25% of the value of all goods and services 

produced in the world. The decision of these countries to create a financial institution that could rival the international financial institutions dominated by Western countries at the summit held in Durban, South Africa in 2013 had a surprising effect, and it is also evaluated that these countries will carry their position even further towards the 2050s. The Latin American country Brazil, which is one of the BRICS countries in the past days, started to prepare for a common currency with its neighbor Argentina, which can be considered as a parallel effort.

As a requirement of South Africa's regional weight, it is striking that it pursues an increasingly independent foreign policy in many areas. This causes the reaction of the powers that have been influential in the region since the past and want to continue this influence after the country's independence. These countries do not hesitate to use their arguments as threats from time to time. The most visible example of this is when the country's parliament in Cape Town, which wanted to consider different options for the benefit of the country, was subjected to two consecutive threatening fires last year. However, despite all these pressures and threats, it is also seen that the administrators of the Republic of South Africa insist on acting in their own way on many issues. This issue is particularly evident in the sanctions imposed against Russia. For example, in October last year, a luxury yacht owned by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov was allowed to dock in Cape Town. Vincent Magwenya, spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa, said: "South Africa has no legal obligation to comply with US and EU sanctions, and we see no reason to comply with Western investments." On the other hand, the government has so far refrained from criticizing Russia directly and abstained from the UN votes condemning the invasion.

Naturally, South Africa also pays the price for these decisions, but these events do not affect the determination of the government. The most important of these is the power outages in the country. Due to sabotage on power lines last year, it was decided to assign soldiers to protect distribution points. The situation has reached such a troubled stage that for this reason alone, Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the African National Congress (ANC), had to cancel his planned visit to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (EEF) in Davos. The state-owned power company, which produces 90% of the country's electricity, is also causing public outrage over the escalating blackouts. Streets are not illuminated, traffic lights are not working, rail transport is affected, food is rotting, and food prices are rising due to the blackout. In some places, people hold demonstrations to protest. Of course, after centuries of colonialism, those who act with colonialist rhetoric against those who try to survive and develop the country by their own means continue to hinder all kinds of development efforts.

Another reason why the reactions have reached the peak due to the cuts is the official visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Republic of South Africa on January 23, 2023, with which many bilateral agreements and protocols have been signed before. And of course, after the visit South Africa, Russia and Chine declared a joint naval exercise, between 17-27 February 2023. Naturally, the fact that such a statement was made at such a critical time is enough for some focal points in the country to take action. The Russians, who made significant contributions to the struggle against the white racist apartheid regime that ruled South Africa between 1948-1994, have deep relations with South African leaders based on the past.

Lavrov visited the country a day before US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's arrival in South Africa, part of a long trip to the continent to strengthen ties with the United States. Lavrov's visit was also criticized by the United States. "The United States has concerns about acting together with Russia as Russia is waging a brutal war against Ukraine," said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The ruling African National Congress has close ties to Moscow, and South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, said: "All countries are holding military

exercises with their friends around the world, this is the natural course of relations." He emphasizes determination and describes the criticisms as double standards. According to him, South Africa, like all other countries, is free to conduct military exercises with its allies as an independent state, and as Africans, one of the most important issues to be resisted is the double standard being directed to this continent. Because this is the abuse of international practices and there should not be any compulsion to any country other than the natural course of international relations. In this regard, BRICS countries should play a proactive role in dealing with global issues and be part of a redesigned global framework.

Speaking to reporters at the press conference they held with Pandor, Lavrov said, “No one remembers how the crisis with Ukraine matured like a boil with the West's direct tolerance. There is pressure exerted by the USA on African countries and not only on them, but also on Asian and Latin American countries. They constantly make it clear that those who cooperate with Russia will regret it, and they threaten the great powers that have built up millennial great civilizations. Threatening and oppressing the United States, as well as the British, are crossing all red lines.” The statement, on the other hand, symbolizes resistance to oppression.

The position of South Africa, which assumed the 2023 term presidency of the group of BRICS countries, is also important in this respect, and this exercise between the three countries is more meaningful than it seems. A similar exercise was carried out in 2019, off the coast of Cape Town in the south of South Africa (South African territorial waters between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Columbine) of these three countries. Now it will take place again between these three countries on February 17-27, 2023, this time in the sea area (KwaZulu-Natal region) between the cities of Durban and Richard Bay in the east of the country. The South African Ministry of Defense announced that two Russian, three Chinese and one South African warship will participate in the exercise, according to initial plans. In the exercise, especially artillery, force protection and air defense exercises are expected to be carried out.

The name of the exercise is the same as the exercise held in 2019: “Mosi”. It means “Smoke” in Tswana, one of the local languages ​​of South Africa. It is noteworthy that a Russian warship equipped with new generation hypersonic navigational weapons will also participate in the exercise.


While the Iranian-Russian and Chinese navies are conducting joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean (this exercise, which was carried out after Iran joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in September last year, is the third exercise between Iran-China and Russia in the last three years), the Russian Ministry of Defense Equipped with zircon missiles, Admiral Gorshkov stated that the frigate will participate in this exercise after stopping at the logistics support point in the Syrian port of Tartus. Zircon missiles have a range of more than a thousand kilometers and can hit land and sea targets at a speed of 9 times faster than the speed of sound. The missile can also be launched from submarines.

These missiles, together with the hypersonic Avangard missile, which entered the Russian inventory in 2019, form the most important part of Russia's hypersonic arsenal. Putin, who previously said the ship and Zircon missiles were "unique in the world", sees these weapons as a way to penetrate the increasingly versatile US missile defense systems. Russia, the USA and China are in the race to develop hypersonic weapons, which think that they can gain an advantage against their enemies thanks to their speed and maneuverability that make them difficult to detect. In his previous statements, Russian President Putin said that his country is the only country in the world with hypersonic weapons, and he 

argued that unlike previous attempts to catch up with the USA in weapons technology, this time they have reached a higher level in many areas in the production of new weapons, and the USA and other countries in this regard. He claimed that they could not get a definite result.

It was announced that the exercise is aimed at improving cooperation between all three countries. On the other hand, a Russian diplomat said, “The Minister of Defense of South Africa attended an event that also included the Army 2022 military-technical forum organized by our ministry of defense in Russia last August. Triple drills are also nothing new. We had naval exercises with the participation of China and India”, indicating that such exercises will continue in the future.

In our previous studies, we evaluated the exercises carried out in different parts of the world, especially during and after the pandemic, and made predictions for the future based on this. Then, we tried to put forward a containment strategy for China, which was formed by the USA by using its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, by evaluating the Indo-Pacific Strategy Document, which was renewed by the USA last year, in this context, for the Asia-Pacific region. In this context, we especially focused on the results of the rapid development of Japan's military capacity. Parallel to this, it is seen that large-scale military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region continue under the leadership of Russia and China.

The "Joint Sea-2022" exercise carried out by the Chinese and Russian Navy on 21-27 December 2022 is one of them. The exercise, which was carried out jointly by the two countries in 2021, was moved to the shores of China this time. The navies of the two countries had previously held joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, where China and North and South Korea are littoral.

The purpose of this exercise was reported as "to further deepen the strategic coordination partnership between China and Russia". More specifically, this exercise, which was organized to provide a joint response to the threats to the maritime security of the two countries and to maintain regional and international peace and stability, seemed to be a show of strength and discouragement against the United States and its allies. Although the Chinese Army has made great progress in recent years, it does not have enough combat experience, except for the limited war experience it had with Vietnam in 1979, and this is its biggest disadvantage. For this reason, he sees every exercise he does with the Russian Army and Navy as an opportunity to benefit from their experience in modern warfare conditions. Due to its past experiences, China keeps a distance from Western countries in terms of defense.

On the other hand, China has been participating in the "Vostok" exercises organized by the Russian Army every 4 years since 2018. It was quite interesting that India participated in the Vostok-2022 exercise, which was held on land and in the Sea of ​​Japan with the participation of more than 50,000 soldiers in 2022, along with Russia and China (despite the problems with China). At this point, the influential factor was Russia. There are strong historical ties between Russia and India.

India still has not gotten over its bitter colonial experience in the past and is distant from Western countries in terms of defense and security. For this reason, despite the problems it has with China, it tries to stand side by side with China in formations such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And avoids playing an active role in QUAD despite the US's push, while its participation in Vostok-2022 is seen a result  a part of seeking strategic autonomy in its foreign policy.

As a result of all this, after the exercises carried out by the navies of Russia, China, India and Iran, starting from the Sea of ​​Japan and in the regions surrounding the Pacific and Indian Ocean, now, the exercises of the Russian, Chinese and South African navies at the southern tip of the African continent at the point that controls both oceans should be well understood.