Russian warship armed with hypersonic missiles to train with Chinese and South African navies

(CNN) — A Russian warship armed with advanced hypersonic missiles has completed a drill in the Atlantic Ocean ahead of joint naval exercises with the Chinese and South African navies scheduled for next month, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate, armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles, practiced “launching a missile strike against an enemy surface target,” the ship’s commander Igor Krokhmal said in a video released by the ministry.

The exercise, described by Russia’s state news agency TASS as an “electronic launch” or virtual simulation, confirmed the “designed characteristics” of the missile system, Krokhmal said, noting the missiles’ alleged ability to reach ranges of more than 900 kilometers.

The test was part of a long voyage of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate launched earlier this month, when Russian state media said the warship was sent with the hypersonic missiles. The deployment will also include joint training with the Chinese and South African navies off the coast of South Africa, according to Moscow and Pretoria.

The exercises come as Russia approaches the one-year anniversary of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and mark both a show of force and, with the joint exercises, an opportunity for Moscow to show that it is not isolated on the world stage, despite of the widespread international condemnation of his unprovoked war.

The White House said Monday that the United States “is concerned that any country … [militares] with Russia, while Russia wages a brutal war against Ukraine.”

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During a joint meeting in Pretoria on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor defended the naval exercises, with Lavrov saying Moscow does not want any “scandal” regarding the exercises. .

Pandor, who posed next to Lavrov while smiling and shaking his hand, said it is normal practice for all countries to hold military exercises with “friends all over the world.”

“There should be no coercion on any country, which must carry them out with any other partner. It is part of a natural course of relations between countries,” she added, without making explicit reference to the criticism leveled at South Africa for its refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion.

In a separate statement detailing the joint exercises, which will take place from February 17-27, South Africa’s Defense Department said that “contrary to the claims” of critics, South Africa “was not abandoning its neutral position in the Russian conflict. -Ukrainian” and “continues to urge both sides to enter into dialogue as a solution to the current conflict.”

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China’s concerns over military exercises

China has not made a statement directly confirming its participation, but its defense ministry website published an article by state news agency Xinhua on Monday, referencing South Africa’s announcement of the drills. China is celebrating a week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

The United States has repeatedly warned Beijing, which has a close strategic partnership with Moscow, not to provide material support to the Russian military in its war in Ukraine.

The Biden administration recently expressed concern to China over evidence suggesting non-lethal equipment has been sold to Russia by Chinese companies for use in Ukraine, though it was unclear whether Beijing was aware of the alleged transactions.

The joint maritime exercise is expected to include some 350 South African National Defense Force personnel along with their Russian and Chinese counterparts, according to South Africa. A previous exercise between the three navies took place in 2019.

This is the first time the drills will include the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, which carries Zircon hypersonic missiles, which were first tested in late 2021.

The long-range weapons, which Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month “there are no analogues in any country in the world,” travel at more than five times the speed of sound and are more difficult to detect and intercept.

The frigate took an active part in testing the missiles, which are designed and produced by the Machine-Building Research and Production Association, part of Russia’s Tactical Missile Corporation, according to TASS.

Its current deployment, starting on January 4, was expected to see the ship transit the Mediterranean Sea and enter the Indian Ocean, TASS reported at the time.

— CNN’s Eve Brennan in London and Brad Lendon in Seoul contributed reporting.

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