A Russian commander on Wednesday ruled out a possible hypersonic missile launch during navy drills off South Africa this week.
The Admiral Gorshkov, a Russian frigate loaded with Zircon hypersonic missiles, will take part in the joint exercises with China’s navy. The letters Z and V are on the side of the ship, two patriotic symbols Russia has used during its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russian official: Hypersonic weapons ‘will not be used’
“The hypersonic weapon will not be used in the context of these exercises,” Russian naval officer Oleg Gladkiy told journalists during a press conference in South Africa. “There is no hidden meaning in the exercises we are performing today.”
Earlier this month, Russian news agency TASS reported that the hypersonic missile firing would occur during the drills, which kicked off on Wednesday and will last until February 27.
Zircon missiles are believed to achieve speeds exceeding 9,000 kilometers per hour (almost 5,600 miles per hour), allowing them to bypass traditional naval defense systems.
The missiles, which Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled “unstoppable,” are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
South Africa responds to hosting backlash
The joint Russian-Chinese naval exercises, which are taking place off South Africa’s eastern coast in the Indian Ocean, are occurring during the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
South Africa has been called insensitive for hosting the drills, known as Mosi-II. The South African government has so far refused to issue a full-throated condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
In response to the criticism, South African Lieutenant-General Siphiwe Sangweni said, “Cooperation and coordination with all other militaries is very important to us.”
He said it is necessary for South Africa to learn techniques from other militaries to better defend itself and participate in global peacekeeping missions.
Brazil is involved as an observer in the drills. Brazilian President Lula Inacio Lula da Silva has previously said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is equally responsible for Russia’s invasion.
Sino-Russian ties reach ‘new frontiers’
The exercises also come as Russia and China deepen their ties.
Western sanctions have led Russia to become more dependent on China’s growing economy. Officials such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also voiced fears that China could provide material support to Ukraine in its invasion, resulting in further escalation of the conflict.
Putin said Wednesday that Sino-Russian relations have reached “new frontiers,” while adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping would soon visit Moscow.