MARITIME DRILL FALLOUT
Controversial Russian frigate sails into Cape Town harbour ahead of contentious war games
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:
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.”
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.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
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