South Africa begins naval drills with Russia and China, despite criticism that it implies support of the war.

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JOHANNESBURG — While the United States and Europe have pressured countries to turn their backs on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, South Africa has doubled down on its longtime alliance with Moscow — a friendship that dates to the struggle against apartheid.

Russia and South Africa, along with China, are scheduled on Friday to start 11 days of joint military exercises off the east coast of South Africa that will include a Russian warship bearing the letters Z and V — Russia’s patriotic symbols for its war in Ukraine — and carrying what Russia boasts is a hypersonic missile.

In recent months, South Africa has welcomed to its shores a Russian commercial vessel, called the Lady R, that was under American sanctions. The two countries’ foreign ministers met last month and exchanged smiles, jokes and praise for the relationship between their nations.

“I’m really proud that we enjoy excellent diplomatic relations with your country, which we regard as a valued partner,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, said during the meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, in Pretoria.

At a time when Russia is seen by many as a pariah nation, the Kremlin has turned for support to South Africa, the most developed economy and an influential voice on the African continent.

South Africa gets a superpower ally that can help it inflate its global influence. And South African officials also see an opportunity to help their nation’s beleaguered economy by increasing trade with Russia, just as Moscow is seeking friendly nations to do business with to bypass American and European sanctions.


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