Russia's Lavrov visits ally South Africa amid Western rivalry

By Carien Du Plessis PRETORIA (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in South Africa on Monday for talks with one of its most important allies on a

continent that is divided over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and related Western attempts to isolate it. He was to meet Soth Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, in a

trip some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community have condemned as insensitive. A ministry spokesman said Lavrov had arrived in South Africa on Monday morning.

He and Pandor are expected to hold a joint news conference around 1000 GMT. President Cyril Ramaphosa's government regards South Africa as neutral in the conflict and has

expressed a desire to mediate. Pandor has repeatedly insisted that South Africa will not be dragged into taking sides, and has criticised the West for its selective

condemnation of Russia while ignoring other issues such as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Even as South Africa has proclaimed impartiality on the conflict

and abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions, it has retained close relations with Russia, historically a friend of the governing African National Congress when it was

a liberation movement against white minority rule. The South African military is set to host a joint military exercise with Russia and China on its east coast on Feb. 17 to

27, a move likely to further strain ties with Washington and European countries. It coincides with the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The

South African military said last week the military exercise is a "means to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China".