Russia has said it will not test fire a hypersonic missile during joint naval drills with China and South Africa, contradicting earlier reports in Russian state media.
A senior Russian naval official told a news conference in Richards Bay, on South Africa’s east coast, that the country had no plans to fire the Zircon missile during the ten-day exercise, Reuters reported Wednesday.
A frigate that carries the weapon, the Admiral Gorshkov, is in South African waters — one of several Russian ships deployed to Exercise Mosi II.
Russian news agency TASS reported earlier this month that the Zircon — which President Vladimir Putin has called “unstoppable” — could be used in a training launch during the exercise.
That drew condemnation from South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance as well as the Ukrainian Association in South Africa. South African officials denied the report.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Captain Oleg Gladkiy, who is heading the Russian contingent, said, "The hypersonic weapon will not be used in the context of these exercises... There is no hidden meaning in the exercises that we are performing today," according to Reuters.
South Africa has been heavily criticized for going ahead with the exercises, which coincide with the first anniversary of the ongoing Ukraine war. But the South African government, which has officially remained neutral on the conflict, has defended its right to hold drills with “friends.”
The ruling African National Congress party has a long relationship with Moscow, dating back to the days when the Soviet Union supported the ANC’s struggle against white minority rule.