Russia denies plan to test new missile off South Africa

The Russian military denied Wednesday that it was planning to test its new Zircon hypersonic missiles during naval drills off the coast of South Africa this week that will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. China’s navy also is participating in the Indian Ocean exercises, which come at a time when Russia’s relationship with the West is at its lowest point since the Cold War, and ties between China and the United States are under serious strain. As Russian and Chinese warships prepared in South Africa for their joint drills, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted China’s most senior foreign policy official at the Kremlin. Those meetings showed the strengthening of Russia’s relationship with China and raised concern in the West that Beijing might be ready to offer Moscow stronger support for its war in Ukraine. Russia’s aims for the naval exercises came under scrutiny because of the involvement of the Admiral Gorshkov, a frigate which is armed with hypersonic missiles. The ship a rrived in Cape Town last week emblazoned with the letters Z and V, letters also seen on Russian weapons on the front lines in Ukraine and which are used as patriotic symbols in Russia. Russia has said the Zircon missiles can penetrate any missile defense systems to strike targets at sea and on land. But a Russian navy officer in South Africa said Wednesday that the exercises would focus on maritime security, including the fight against piracy. The drills will involve ”mutual maneuvering of the three sides, assistance of the suffering vessel in a disaster, liberation of a captured vessel by the pirates, and artillery fire which, according to our schedule, does not include the firing with the hypersonic missiles,” Capt. Oleg Gladkiy said. He spoke through a translator. The Admiral Gorshkov and a Russian oil tanker for refueling, a Chinese destroyer, frigate and a support vessel, and a South African frigate will be involved in the exercises, accor