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Russian Warship Docks in Cape Town

FILE: The Russian frigate "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov" armed with Zircon (Tsirkon) hypersonic weapons leaves the naval base in Severomorsk, Russia, in this still image taken from video released January 4, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS.

A Russian military frigate docked in Cape Town harbor on Monday ahead of controversial military drills with South Africa and China, coming as Moscow is about to mark one year since its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian consulate in Cape Town tweeted a photo of the ship, the "Admiral Gorshkov", in the harbor, saying it was on "its way to Durban where it will take part in joint... drills".

The exercises dubbed "Mosi", which means "smoke" in the local Tswana language, are scheduled for February 17 to 27 off the port cities of Durban and Richards Bay.

They will coincide with the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

More than 350 South African armed forces will take part in the exercises "with an aim of sharing operational skills and knowledge" with Russia and China, the South Africa military said last month, the second such exercises between the three naval forces.

South Africa has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine which has largely isolated Moscow on the international scene, saying it wants to stay neutral.

South Africa's largest opposition group, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has denounced the joint drills.

"This vessel will be sailing towards the Black Sea and taking part in the invasion against Ukraine," said Kobus Marais, a DA member of parliament with oversight of party's stance on defense, told AFP.

"That can very easily make South Africa complicit in these war crimes," he said. "We are drawn into the propaganda show of Russia."

The Russian consulate and embassy in South Africa did not respond to an AFP request for comment.