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Russian warship armed with hypersonic missiles to join drills with China, South Africa

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov (by Russian Defense Ministry via Reuters)

A Russian warship armed with new-generation hypersonic cruise missiles will participate in joint exercises with the navies of China and South Africa in February, state media say.

The Russian state agency TASS, citing sources, reported on Monday the drills will run from February 17 to 27 near the South African port city of Durban and Richards Bay. “'Admiral Gorshkov' ... will go to the logistic support point in Syria's Tartus, and then take part in joint naval exercises with the Chinese and South African navies.”

On Thursday, the South African National Defense Force said the drills aim "to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China."

The report on Monday was the first official mention of the participation by the frigate ‘Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov’ which is armed with Zircon missiles. Gorshkov held exercises in the Norwegian Sea this month after President Vladimir Putin sent it to the Atlantic Ocean in a signal to the West that Russia would not back down over the war in Ukraine.

Russia says the missiles fly at nine times the speed of sound, with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers. They form the centerpiece of its hypersonic arsenal, along with the Avangard glide vehicle that entered combat duty in 2019.

Russia sees the weapons as a way to pierce increasingly sophisticated US missile defenses that Putin has warned could one day shoot down its nuclear missiles.

The exercise will be the second involving the three countries in South Africa, after drills in 2019.

South Africa's foreign minister on Monday deflected criticism of the joint military drills, saying hosting such exercises with ‘friends’ was the “natural course of relations.” Naledi Pandor said, “All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide.”

Russia, China and the United States are in a race to develop hypersonic weapons, seen as a way to gain an edge over any adversary due to their speed and their maneuverability.

China and Russia have stepped up joint military exercises as part of their aligning of foreign policies to oppose the US hegemony. Earlier this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had placed its focus on developing relations with Beijing.

Amid recent tensions between Beijing and Washington over the latter’s political and military interference in Taipei, Russia strongly backed China.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, described the friendship between the two as having “no limits,” Washington has become more vigilant about the relations between Beijing and Moscow.

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