A visit by two Russian Air Force Tu-160 bombers has been postponed by more than 24 hours due to technical problems, with the aircraft now set to arrive in South Africa on 23 October.
The aircraft were due to arrive at 6:30 on 22 Octoberg, accompanied by South African Air Force (SAAF) Gripen and Hawk combat aircraft, which would have flown from Air Force Base Makhado to give them interception practice. The Tu-160s were due to be preceded by an Antonov An-124 transport and an Ilyushin Il-62. The An-124 arrived on Monday and is currently parked at Air Force Base Waterkloof.
The Tu-160s departed Russia on Wednesday morning and are expected to arrive in South Africa at around 16:00.
Defence expert and Director at African Defence Review, Darren Olivier, notes that the visit was originally scheduled for 2016, and was to coincide with that year’s Africa Aerospace & Defence exhibition. At the last minute it was postponed, seemingly as a result of Russia being unable to spare Tu-160 aircraft during a key period of its operations in Syria.
The SAAF said that military to military relations between South Africa and Russia is not solely built on struggle politics but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests. “It is within this context and within the framework of the agreement between the Ministries of Defence of both countries dated June 14, 1995, that the joint unit of the AFRF [Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation] is visiting the RSA.” It added that South Africa and Russia have strong historical links with diplomatic relations established between both countries on 28 February 1992.
The visit coincides with the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday and Thursday, with President Cyril Ramaphosa due to attend the inaugural event, which will focus on key areas of cooperation between Russia and African countries.
“The summit is expected to deepen friendly relations between the Russian Federation and countries of the African continent at both bilateral and multilateral levels; forge closer collaboration on regional and international issues of common interest…” the Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
The summit is also expected to raise strategic dialogue between Russia and African countries to a qualitatively higher level and contribute to peace, security and sustainable development on the African continent.
“The participation of South Africa at this inaugural summit is in line with the South African foreign policy pillar of encouraging South-North Cooperation in various technical fields, as well as promoting economic development,” the Presidency said.
“Relations between the two countries were further bolstered by the meeting between [President] Ramaphosa and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the BRICS Summit in July 2018,” the Presidency said. The two Presidents also had an opportunity to meet on the margins of the G20 Summit in June 2019.
Ramaphosa will be accompanied by the Ministers of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, State Security, Ayanda Dlodlo and Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Russia plans to put on an arms fair at the summit, showing Russian-made weapons including its S-400 missile defence system, other air defence systems as well as non-military equipment, according to the Almaz-Antey arms manufacturer.
Russia has been trying to gain influence in Africa, with Putin saying on Monday that the West was intimidating African countries to exploit their resources. He said Moscow’s ties to Africa are now on the up, pointing to military technical cooperation accords that Russia has with more than 30 African states which it supplies arms to.
As part of cooperation with South Africa, Russia will, in late November, take part in the naval Exercise Mosi with the Chinese and South African Navies. A planning conference was recently held at SA Navy fleet headquarters in Simon’s Town.