South Africa is planning a joint naval exercise with Russia and China.

The maneuver, called "Operation MOSI", is to take place from February 17 to 27 off the east coast of the country near the cities of Durban and Richards Bay, the Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.

It should serve to strengthen the "already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China".

So far, the government has emphasized its neutrality in the Ukraine war and abstained from the United Nations vote on the matter.

Claudia Bröll

Political correspondent for Africa based in Cape Town.

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South Africa belongs to the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

The ruling party, the African National Congress, had close ties with the Soviet Union during the resistance struggle against apartheid.

The news comes just days before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov travels to South Africa.

It is his first visit since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, sharply criticized both Lavrov's reception and the military exercise.

It's a "silly" exercise "at an awkward time in global geopolitical history."

South Africa is thus effectively siding with Russia.

Political observers at the Brenthurst Foundation wrote that this shows how far the government has strayed from its Western allies.

It is the second joint exercise of the three naval forces, the statement said.

The first took place in Cape Town in November 2019.

All preparations for the new exercise, in which 350 South African soldiers are to take part, have been completed.