Moscow confirms ‘cutting-edge’ frigate bearing hypersonic missiles will take part in naval exercise off SA
The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov, which has been testing the strike capabilities of the Zircon missile in the Western Atlantic, is headed for the KwaZulu-Natal coast to participate in a ‘multinational maritime exercise’ with the South African and Chinese navies.
The Russian government has confirmed that its “cutting-edge frigate” Admiral Gorshkov — which is armed with Zircon (or Tsirkon) hypersonic missiles — will take part in joint naval exercises with South Africa and China off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal in February.
This was reported on Wednesday, 25 January, by Russia’s state news agency Tass. It said the Admiral Gorshkov, now conducting exercises with the Zircon missile in the West Atlantic, would replenish supplies in the Syrian port of Tartus and join the joint Exercise Mosi 2 off South Africa.
Western military officials believe, however, that the Admiral Gorschkov will probably head to Cuba and Venezuela to refuel and replenish before heading south through the Atlantic to South Africa.
Tass also reported that Russian defence ministry officials had confirmed that the Admiral Gorshkov had practised Zircon hypersonic strikes in the Atlantic.
“It is reported that the crew demonstrated a high degree of coordination while performing the combat training task,” Tass said. “According to the top brass, the crew of the frigate, currently on a mission in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, ‘practiced a Tsirkon hypersonic missile strike on a target simulating an enemy warship at a distance of more than 900km’.
“The naval task force consisting of the frigate Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov and the tanker ship Kama has been deployed in distant waters under the command of Northern Fleet Missile Ships Division Commander Captain 1st Rank Oleg Gladky,” Tass added.
Western military officials believe Russia has sent the Admiral Gorschkov to South Africa via the Western Atlantic as a show of force to the US.
Russia claims the Zircon can travel at almost 10,000km/hour, fast enough to evade any US and Nato antimissile defences. It also has a range of more than 900km. Western military officials believe it is sailing closer than that to the US, making a point to Washington.
After they met for official talks in Pretoria on Monday, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor both dismissed criticism by the Democratic Alliance and others of Exercise Mosi 2.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “‘Simplistic and infantile’ to demand Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, says Pandor after meeting Lavrov”
Lavrov said he could not understand why anyone would criticise the drill as it would not violate any international rules. He suggested the US was behind the criticism. Meanwhile, he said, the US was itself conducting its own naval exercises close to China in the Taiwan Strait.
Pandor said the critics of Exercise Mosi 2 were applying double standards, as they had not criticised the military exercises South Africa recently conducted with Western militaries, including Operation Shared Accord with the US and Operation Oxide with France.
In a joint media conference with Pandor, Lavrov blamed the US and other Western powers for the failure of peace negotiations in Ukraine.
He repeated previous claims that although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had been ready to do a peace deal with Russia in March last year, Western powers had stopped him, saying it was too early and that Ukraine should first put more military pressure on Russia.
Despite it being reported almost universally, Lavrov denied that Russia was targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, using missiles and drones to destroy the power grids of several Ukrainian cities.
He claimed Ukraine was itself criminally responsible for the destruction of its own civilian infrastructure because it was placing its military hardware next to civilian installations.
‘Misinformation and disinformation’
David Feldmann, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, reacted to Lavrov’s criticism of the US. In an interview with SABC News on Wednesday, he said:
“Minister Lavrov’s public comments earlier this week at a press conference in Pretoria represent an exhausting example of misinformation and disinformation by the Russian Federation.
“Lavrov seeks to obfuscate the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing invasion of a sovereign neighbouring nation, and the atrocities committed against that nation’s civilian population.
“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory constitutes aggression in violation of the UN Charter. Russia’s missile attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure are the latest demonstration that Putin currently has no interest in meaningful diplomacy.
“Russia remains the sole obstacle to peace in Ukraine. Russia and Russia alone can end this war today. All Putin has to do is pull his tanks out of Ukraine and stop bombing Ukrainian cities.”
Feldmann said the high-level engagements over the past year with US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the currently visiting Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen demonstrated that the US saw South Africa “as a valued partner with whom we share deeply held democratic values”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Enoch Godongwana to talk to US’s Janet Yellen about funding just transition and solving rolling blackouts”
Lavrov continued his African tour with visits to Eswatini and Angola.
At a media conference with his Angolan counterpart Téte Antonio in Luanda on Wednesday, Lavrov likened Russia’s war against Ukraine with the ruling MPLA’s struggle against Portuguese colonial domination, according to the Lusa agency.
The USSR provided considerable military and other support to the MPLA both in its anticolonial struggle and then later in the civil war against the political movement Unita, which was backed by the US and South Africa.
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Lavrov repeated his familiar argument that Russia had intervened militarily in Ukraine to defend Russian speakers in that country from alleged persecution by the Zelensky government.
Téte Antonio stressed that Angola favoured inclusive dialogue to end the conflict, while respecting the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other states.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Who killed Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko?”
During his visit to Eswatini, Lavrov said he had pledged security training to Eswatini after talking to Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini and Foreign Minister Thuli Dladla.
“Russia is prepared to assist Eswatini in the training of security personnel, improving food production and also assistance on other issues of mutual cooperation,” Lavrov told reporters, according to the Moscow Times.
The journal noted that he had made this offer “just days after the brutal murder of a leading human rights lawyer and opposition politician”.
Renowned human rights lawyer and political activist Thulani Maseko was shot dead at his home in Manzini on Saturday, 21 January by unknown assailants.
His murder seems to be an organised hit as he was shot through a window of his house. The killer or killers did not enter the house or take anything. DM