SA/Russian military relations cemented during Ministerial Moscow visit


South African Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, spent this week in Russia attending an international security conference and meeting with her Russian Federation counterpart.

Her meeting with General Serge Shoigu on the side-lines of the Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) saw defence relations between the two countries come under the spotlight. This as a result of a binational defence committee and another designated to deal with defence technical matters all aimed at improving military to military relations between the countries headed up by Vladimir Putin and Jacob Zuma.

A statement released by Department of Defence head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, who is part of the South African delegation to Moscow, indicated there are “positive dynamics between the two countries’ defence forces”.

Dlamini added there was “growing intensity and opportunity” to improve military to military relations and work with the South African defence industry.

Shoigu said the Russian Federation was committed to all agreements and technical co-operation memoranda. He also extended an invitation to South Africa to attend the 2016 Military Forum seminar taking place in Moscow later this year.

Russia’s top soldier also invited South Africa to “explore” joint naval exercises and, according to Dlamini, called on both navies to visit each other and share naval experiences.

Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out that military and military technical co-operation agreements between Russia and South Africa extended to the academic and educational fields, with 17 South Africans currently studying, among others, air and land navigation and medicine.

She expects more South African military students to study in Russia in future.

Mapisa-Nqakula is no stranger to Russia, having paid a visit in February 2013, for instance, when she was followed by the Chief of the South African National Defence Force General Solly Shoke, who was there to explore military to military technical co-operation, including the exchange of students and instructors, as well as military courses and information.

A defence industry delegation also looked at more collaboration with the Russian defence manufacturing sector. State-owned defence industry conglomerate Denel is the first South African company to become actively involved with the Russian defence sector. At 2012’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof it announced maintenance, repair and overhaul agreements with Russian Helicopters.

Mapisa-Nqakula was also in Russia in April 2015 to attend the Moscow Conference on International Security. She presented a paper on key threats to maritime security in the Southern African Development Community.

In October 2015 a military delegation from South Africa made its first visit to the Russian Eastern Military District where it visited various training centres and firing ranges, amongst other things.

In terms of a military cooperation agreement signed between South African and Russia in 2013, the two countries agreed to “enhance military cooperation, including military and military-technical cooperation on a long term basis and other forms of interaction between the armed forces of the two countries.”

An outcome of this agreement was the news that about ten South African Air Force pilots from 2 Squadron at AFB Makhado have been selected for further training in Russia. Originally 18 pilots were supposed to go to Russia but this was trimmed down due to the low number of pilots in the SAAF and cost. The majority of those going to Russia are qualified pilots but are short of flying hours to build their experience base.

Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Fabian Zakes Msimang, visited Russia in August last year to attend the International Army Games event. These ‘military Olympics’ comprised several different events, including the Aviadarts aviation competition, Tank Biathlon, Air Defence Battle, Safe Route combat engineering competition and Safe Environment competition.