SA Navy Chief visits Russia, promotes BRICS alliance

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Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, has visited Russia for the country’s annual Navy Day event in St Petersburg.

Navy chiefs from a number of countries were in the Baltic Sea city on 30 July to take part in Russia’s annual parade celebrating its naval victory against Sweden in the 1714 Battle of Gangut.

The parade was attended by 33 ships, four submarines, eight sailing vessels and 3 000 military personnel. Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over the event, which was also attended by four African heads of state (from the Republic of Congo, Mali, Eritrea and Burkina Faso) who had been in Russia for the Russia-Africa Summit on 27 and 28 July.

Amongst South African representatives in attendance was Lobese, who was present at a gala dinner along with other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) fleet Vice Admirals. In a short speech, Lobese thanked Russia for its invitation to attend the event and extolled the virtues of the BRICS grouping.

“My country South Africa would not have achieved independence if it were not for the support of many of your countries, represented here tonight. My country is a proud member of BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia, India and China, and will this year also be the Chair for this gathering of nations, as well as the host of the BRICS summit in a few short weeks. We have all heard of the dozens of countries who want to be a part of this gathering of nations.

“We as South Africans are very excited of the new geo-political landscape that will be shaped by this gathering of people. This geo-political landscape will see the world take a stance against imperialism, and against those countries who believe that they can dictate how other countries must behave on the world stage. We as South Africans would like to extent our hands of friendship and to build bridges of cooperation to all those nations who share our beliefs. We do this from a position of inclusivity, mutual trust, mutual agreement and partnership, and do not require the permission of any country to do this. So, ladies and gentleman, comrades, friends – allow me to raise a toast to BRICS, to friendship, to love and mutual cooperation and the establishment of a new world order,” Lobese said.

On the sidelines of the visit, Lobese pledged to strengthen defence ties with Iran. He met with Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, and extended a welcome to all Iranian military and non-military vessels in South Africa’s waters and ports. In response, Irani thanked South Africa for hosting the 86th flotilla of warships from the Iranian Navy in Cape Town in March/April this year, and invited his South African counterpart to visit Iran and participate in naval exercises.

During a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) visit to Cape Town late last month, Lobese pledged to deploy one or more vessels to China once the South African Navy returns its vessels to sea following maintenance and repair. The last time a South African Navy vessel visited China was in 2008, when SAS Spioenkop undertook the long voyage.

South Africa enjoys close ties with BRICS navies and has taken part in numerous naval exercises with India and Brazil (notably Exercises Ibsamar), and China and Russia (Exercises Mosi).

South Africa and Russia have enjoyed longstanding military relations, for example in 1995 signing agreements on military technical co-operation and co-operation between their respective defence ministries. South Africa has taken part in Russia’s annual Army Games from 2016 and has sent military personnel to train in Russia, including members of the SA Air Force.

At present, the South African Navy has four student engineers and three logistics students studying at the Russian Naval Academy – five SA Navy students have already graduated from the Academy as engineers. They studied there for six years from 2015.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has gotten tangled up in diplomatic rows over its involvement with Russia ever since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, with its decision to proceed with naval Exercise Mosi II in February this year between Russia, China and South Africa attracting criticism, especially as the exercise coincided with the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has previously said that South Africa would not be drawn “into a contest between global powers” over Ukraine despite having faced “extraordinary pressure” to pick sides.