From Russia with love

Yesterday, an unusual thing happened in South Africa. A pair of Russia’s dozen or so operational Tupolev Tu-160 “White Swan” (NATO: Blackjack) bombers touched down at the AFB Waterkloof outside of Pretoria after a non-stop journey from the Motherland. Based in Saratov, the distance involved is something like 7,500 miles in a straight line but the Russkis came the long way, trekking over the Caspian and Arabian seas, as well as the Indian Ocean, in a 13-hour flight. Ground crews arrived earlier this week with support equipment in an Il-62 and An-124 Ruslan.

Escorted by SAAF Hawks (I guess the country’s Gripens were busy) the visit coincided with the start of a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.

Although the two countries, as the Soviet Union and Apartheid-era South Africa, fought a series of bush wars throughout the 1970s and 80s through proxies in places like Angola and Mozambique, things have changed over the past few years.

As noted by the SADF, “South Africa and Russia have strong diplomatic links that were established between both countries in 1992. Our relations are not solely built on ‘struggle politics’, but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests.”

From St. Petersburg:

The purpose of the visit is the development of bilateral military cooperation and the development of issues of interaction between the Russian Aerospace Forces and the South African Air Force.

The event will help to increase the combat training of the flight personnel of the two countries. Comprehensive friendly relations between Russia and South Africa are built in the spirit of strategic partnership and mutual understanding.

Of note, during the Boer War, the Boers enjoyed much support from St. Petersburg, being something of a cause celeb among Tsarist officers and functionaries. In fact, several hundred Russian volunteers actually made it to the Continent to fight the British, as sore feelings of the Great Game and Crimean War were still fresh. Among its members was Cadet politician Alexander Guchkov who later became the Minister of War in the doomed 1917 Provisional Government.

Everything old is new again, as it would seem.

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