Russian Bombers to Land in South Africa During Unprecedented Deployment

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In this photo made from video taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, a Russian air force Tu-160 bomber flies a combat mission as part of a Russian air campaign against targets in Syria.  (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
FILE -- In this photo made from video taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, a Russian air force Tu-160 bomber flies a combat mission as part of a Russian air campaign against targets in Syria. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)

Two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and support aircraft are expected to touch down in South Africa this week for an unprecedented deployment to the continent.

The South Africa Department of Defence on Monday announced it had recently invited Russian personnel and the long-range strategic bombers, an Ilyushin Il-62 Classic airliner and an Antonov An-124 Condor heavy transport, as part of an increased "military to military" partnership, according to a release. The Aviatonist was first to report the news following a social media post from the African Defence Review's Darren Olivier.

Olivier, the director of the publication, noted the bomber arrival was first scheduled for 2016, but because of Russia's increased operations in Syria at the time, the bombers were unable to deploy to South Africa.

The aircraft are set to arrive by Tuesday in the country's Waterkloof Air Force Base, just 32 miles north of Johannesburg.

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Russia has made various inroads on the African continent over the last few years, with officials noting the nation has taken a page out of China's playbook in efforts to restore global influence.

Moscow has signed more than 20 military agreements with various African countries since 2015, and has quadrupled its trade with Africa in the last decade -- from $5.7 billion in 2009 to $20 billion in 2018, according to Quartz Magazine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit this week in Sochi in an effort to woo 47 African officials to expand their bilateral partnerships with Russia -- instead of the United States.

Putin told Russian media Monday that Western countries like the U.S. have taken advantage of Africa for its resources without fair recompense.

"We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments," Putin told Russia's TASS state news agency, without naming specific countries. The summit, co-hosted with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will take place Oct. 23-24 in the Black Sea city.

Putin added that it's now time for Russia to offer the countries economic solutions that are not "contingent upon ... preconditions," according to RadioFreeEurope-Radio Liberty.

The U.S. has also kept an eye on Russia's military engagement on the continent. Prior to his confirmation to lead U.S. Africa Command, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April that Russia's mercenary "little green men" have had officials questioning Moscow's motives in the region.

"They concern me greatly," Townsend said of the mercenaries from the shadowy organization known as the "Wagner Group."

"They're quasi-military and, as we saw play out in Crimea and Ukraine, 'little green men' running around not necessarily following the rules of behavior we would expect from a proper army," he said, referencing the hybrid warfare strategy.

During the hearing, Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, said the alliances would only continue to increase Moscow's access.

"Russians have moved into Central African Republic, advising them, which seems to be an attempt by Putin to return to the great power influence that they enjoyed under the Soviet Union," Reed said.

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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