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Controversial Russian frigate sails into Cape Town harbour ahead of contentious war games

Controversial Russian frigate sails into Cape Town harbour ahead of contentious war games
The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov at the refueling quay in Cape Town harbour will take part in joint naval exercises with South Africa and China off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Supplied)

The Admiral Gorshkov is en route to a joint maritime exercise with South Africa and China off the KZN coast. 

The controversial Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov sailed into Cape Town on Monday, and refuelled after a long voyage from Russia. The ship is en route to Durban and Richards Bay to participate in the joint maritime Exercise Mosi II with the South African and Chinese navies.

It was not clear if the ship would merely refuel and then move on to KwaZulu-Natal or if it would dock in Cape Town to replenish stores and give its crew shore leave, as a naval expert suggested. 

As it sailed into port, the ship proudly sported a large “Z”  on the starboard (right) side of funnel, and a V on the port (left) side. These are the symbols which Russian tanks and other vehicles and warships have all been using since February 24 last year to show they are participating in the war against Ukraine. “It’s not deserving neutrality,” Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson Kobus Marais told Daily Maverick, saying the Z symbol showed South Africa would not be participating in a neutral exercise. 

Western governments are dismayed that Exercise Mosi II will be underway on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, turning it in effect into a celebration of that event. 

Read more in Daily Maverick here:

Western diplomats raise alarm on South Africa-Russia-China joint naval exercise during anniversary of Ukraine invasion

The Russian frigate has also stirred considerable controversy because its armament includes the “hypersonic” ship-to-ship Zircon missile which Moscow claims is too fast to be intercepted by any Nato forces.

The official news agency Tass recently reported that the Admiral Gorshkov would test-fire the Zircon during Exercise Mosi II which alarmed Western diplomats. However, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) told Daily Maverick on Sunday that “according to the Protocol agreement signed by the three countries, there is no planned launch of any missile during Exercise MOSI II.”

Admiral Gorshkov

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov at the refueling quay in Cape Town harbour will take part in joint naval exercises with South Africa and China off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Supplied)

The SANDF also confirmed that one Russian frigate and one oiler (tanker); one Chinese destroyer, one Chinese frigate and one Chinese support vessel; plus one South African frigate would participate in Exercise Mosi II.

A military expert told Daily Maverick that the Admiral Gorshkov’s oiler — which refuels it — was expected in Cape Town on Friday although that is the date when the 10-day exercise off the KZN coast is supposed to start. 

It is likely that the Chinese ships will sail across the Indian Ocean to join the exercise. 

The Russian Ministry of Defence reported on Friday that the Admiral Gorshkov had just practised artillery firing in the southern Atlantic Ocean en route to South Africa. 

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Intriguingly, the ministry reported that the ship’s crew had practised artillery firing against a sea target  “within the preparative activities for the joint exercise with the South African Navy and Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.”

Perhaps the Russians were referring to the anti-piracy manoeuvres which are due to be part of Exercise Mosi II.

The crew struck and “neutralised”  the floating target at a distance of over ten kilometres, with the ship’s 130mm naval gun, not a missile, according to the defence ministry report 

“To counter mock enemy’s high-precision armament, electronic warfare crews have practised jamming,” the statement also said. It added that the Admiral Gorschkov had also successfully transferred diesel fuel and fresh water from its support tanker Kama while at sea. 

“The personnel practised ensuring safety while transferring the fluid cargo. Main emphasis was placed on ecological safety measures.”

The detachment of the Admiral Gorshkov and the Kama is headed by Northern Fleet’s missile ship division commander, Captain 1st Rank Oleg Gladky, the ministry said. 

“The frigate Admiral Gorshkov is a modern multi-purpose ship, equipped with guided missiles, and designed for operating in distant maritime and oceanic zones. Fitted with Zirkon, the ship is capable of launching pinpoint and powerful strikes at any offshore and onshore targets. The feature of Zircon missiles is their ability to overcome any kind of modern and promising air or missile defence systems.”

However Ukrainian sources are sceptical about Russia’s claims about the Zircon’s capabilities. 

Western governments have said that by participating in a naval exercise with Russia, South Africa has abandoned the “non-aligned” stance that it has claimed since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Marais agreed, saying that by forging ahead with Exercise Mosi II the ANC government was “abandoning its officially declared neutral position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

“Russia’s clear objective with Exercise Mosi II is to abuse SA for their propaganda against the West,” Marais said, noting the Tass report that the Admiral Gorshkov would fire its Zircon missile during the exercise.

“Despite the SANDF now denying it, SA seem to be prepared to play the role of the ‘useful idiot.’ This is a senseless and very irresponsible act by the ANC government to please their Russian masters at any cost.”

Marais said with its very limited budget and capabilities the navy should not be partaking in an exercise with little or no benefits to it. And given the outrage of Western diplomats, “this silly attitude will alienate us further from our major trading partners and investors and might push us over the edge into grey-listing and the loss of major trading concessions like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • James Francis says:

    The Russians are baby-killers, genocidists who brandish the skulls of their victims at rock concerts (google Igor Mangushev), and see no issue attacking civilians to win an unjust war at all costs. Meanwhile, China enslaves minorities and bullies smaller nations. Viva, ANC, you’ve become worthy replacements for the Apartheid Nats.

    • Nancy Brindley says:

      Great comment, fine mess youve got us into , at the cost of your own people, just to enrich yourselves and pay Zuma’ dues he owes to both countries, whilst top digs lick up the gravy. Full marks ANC.

  • Meindert Hoving says:

    I noticed the flag of Novorossiya on the front of the ship:
    Novorossiya (also known as New Russia) was an unrecognised confederation of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, claiming the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. On 20 May 2015 the leadership of the Federal State of Novorossiya announced the ‘freezing’ of the confederation ‘project’.[1]
    see wikipedia for Flag_of_Novorossiya

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      That is interesting information – one has to wonder what it means? To my mind it’s almost showing that SA supports the Russian invasion whilst they try to get Donesk back as part of Russia again! Sadly our politicians are too dumb to care what this means to the rest of the world!

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Wrong! That flag is the Russian Navy Jack. The flag flown on the forward jack staff.

  • Meindert Hoving says:

    Sorry, I want to retract my comment about the flag, it is a normal Russian navy flag.

    • Caroline Rich says:

      This whole situation infuriates me. Our government is a complete embarrassment and show their idiocy by aligning with tyrannical nations. It’s ironic that we fought for the freedom of suppressed people during apartheid, yet the now support an oppressor. I hang my head in shame.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Great. Whatever the flag is we do not need it in The Cape. Or KZN. Or Eastern Cape. Or Northern Cape. Or AFRICA!!

  • John Counihan says:

    Any protests planned? Any crew members going ashore should get a clear message that they are not welcome in RSA.

    • Karel Vlok says:

      It will be like blaming conscripts for apartheid, while the politician responsible are still leaching on today’s taxpayers, even those taxpayers prejudiced by their policies.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      I sailed with Ukrainian crews worldwide for 14 years. Many of them were Russian Ukrainians. Great guys. They did not like Putin at all. I will hand out some of my amazing home-brew beer, but let them know my anti-Putin stand. Polynal!?

  • Rory Short says:

    Is it fair to judge a nation by it’s friends? Most definitely.

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    Appalling, utterly atrocious, an absolute travesty.

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    Maybe they want to use the SA navy for target practice?

  • owen steyn says:

    we are now truly a banana republic

  • Jon Quirk says:

    It is crystal clear that we no longer live in a democratic country but rather an ANC dictatorship. Taxes and any other imposts are therefore illegal and must no longer be paid.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The Umhlanga Rocks Protea hotel is already full of Russian Military personal who are not seamen ….makes one wonder if this really is a Naval exercise or something else????

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    I’m utterly ashamed of this rotten ANC government, they don’t take a blind bit of notice of the citizens and just carry on with their disgusting actions. They must pay dearly at the polls.

  • Pagani Paganini says:

    All of the sudden Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov is ‘controversial’. Seriously!! The elites are going nuts about nothing. Get over it Mr. Fabricious.

    • Helen Swingler says:

      It is controversial within the broader picture of what is going down in Ukraine and the dodgy SA/Russia links and repercussions for Africa. This is not about one Russian frigate, sir, and no, we will not get over it. As for ‘the elites’, I am left wondering if you mean the ones in power in the unholy triumvirate of SA/China/Russia?

  • John Laurence Laurence says:

    The ANC as a political party is bankrupt, and hugely dependent on cash received from various Russian Oligarchs operating in South Africa. (Manganese Mines), Hence the kowtowing to Russia at the expense of South Africa and its citizens. ANC first and f–k the rest of you.

  • Robert K says:

    Someone should invite Ukraine to join in the exercise. They need some target practice.

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