Russian Lavrov visits his South African ally amid Western rivalry

PRETORIA, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to South Africa on Monday for talks with one of his country’s key allies on a continent divided by the invasion of Ukraine and Western attempts to isolate Moscow.

Lavrov met his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, after flying out earlier in the day on a trip that some South African opposition parties and Ukraine’s small community have described as insensitive.

He and Pandor delivered prepared remarks to the media before beginning private talks. They were due to hold a joint press conference around 10:00 GMT.

The government of President Cyril Ramaphosa considers South Africa to be neutral in the Ukrainian conflict and has expressed its willingness to mediate.

“As South Africa, we constantly affirm that we will always be ready to support the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the (African) continent and around the world,” Pandor said in his remarks, speaking alongside Lavrov.

South Africa has little trade with Russia, but it is a champion of a worldview, favored by China and Russia, that seeks to undo the perceived hegemony of the United States in favor of a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is more diffuse.

Pandor repeatedly insisted that South Africa would not be dragged into taking sides and criticized the West for its condemnation of Russia while ignoring other issues such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. .

South Africa has proclaimed its impartiality on the Ukrainian conflict and abstained from voting on UN resolutions while maintaining close relations with Russia, long friends of the ruling African National Congress when it was a liberation movement opposing white minority rule.

South Africa’s military is expected to hold a joint exercise with Russia and China on its east coast from Feb. 17-27, which will likely further strain ties with the United States and European countries.

The exercise will coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Russia describes its intervention in its southern neighbor as a “special military operation”.

The South African armed forces said last week that the exercise was a “means of strengthening the already flourishing relationship between South Africa, Russia and China”.

Russian news agency TASS reported on Monday that a Russian warship armed with next-generation hypersonic cruise weapons will take part in the drills.

Lavrov’s second African visit in six months precedes a Russia-Africa summit, which was postponed until July last year due to the Ukrainian conflict.

There was no official public comment from the Ukrainian embassy, ​​but officials said it had asked the South African government to help push forward President Volodymyr’s 10-point peace plan. Zelenskiy, which he proposed to the G20 in November.

Reporting by Carien Du Plessis, Anait Miridzhanian, Alexander Winning and Estelle Shirbon Editing by Tim Cocks and Angus MacSwan

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