Russia's Lavrov: conflict with West 'almost a real war'

STORY: Russia's Foreign Minister on Monday (January 23) cast the conflict between Moscow and the West as "not hybrid" and "almost a real war."

Sergei Lavrov, speaking during a trip to South Africa, also criticized the West for sending billions of dollars of arms to Kyiv.

"The goal is to destroy everything Russian, from language to culture, that has been in Ukraine for centuries and to prohibit people from speaking their mother tongue."

South Africa is one of Russia's most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion of Ukraine and Western attempts to isolate Moscow.

It says it's impartial and has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions relating to what Russia calls a "special military operation".

South Africa initially called for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine unilaterally.

But on Monday South Africa's foreign minister Naledi Pandor said that was no longer its position.

Outside the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, where Lavrov was being hosted, protesters had gathered.

People from the Ukrainian Association of South Africa waved placards and shouted slogans.

Among them was Anastasia Korpeso.

"Most of all stop cowardly bombing our hospitals and our schools and apartment blocks."

South Africa's ruling African National Congress has historic close ties with Russia from when it was a liberation movement opposing white minority rule.

The two countries and China will carry out joint military drills next month.

Pandor - who has accused the West of condemning Russia while ignoring issues such as Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory - defended the drills.

She said all countries conduct military exercises with their friends and that it was the natural course of relations.