Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in South Africa on Monday, to hold talks with one of his country's 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 with his counterpart, Naledi Pandor, in the capital Pretoria in what South African government officials have said is an ordinary visit, but which some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community condemned as insensitive.

A spokesman for Pandor's department said Lavrov had arrived in South Africa early on Monday morning. Lavrov 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 acts of aggression like 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. (Reporting by Carien Du Plessis Editing by Tim Cocks and Toby Chopra)