The attempts by some African leaders to mediate and broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine has suffered a serious setback at the first huddle.
The African entourage started off in Kyiv before going on to Moscow. After meeting with the delegation on Friday in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared that peace negotiations would be on the precondition that Moscow evacuates its troops from Ukrainian territory that it has claimed is not negotiable.
According to reports from Reuters, the African leaders were then given a litany of reasons by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, casting doubt on a strategy that Kyiv had already largely rejected the previous day.
Even as Kyiv last week launched a counteroffensive to drive Russian forces from the expanses of southern and eastern Ukraine that they control, the African leaders were trying to reach an agreement on a number of “confidence-building measures”. It would seem, however, that the plan has been stillborn.
Putin emphasized Russia’s commitment to the continent as he began Saturday’s meetings with representatives of Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, the Congo Republic, Comoros, and South Africa in a palace outside of St. Petersburg.
But before the round of speeches could continue, Reuters further report that he intervened to criticise the assumptions of the plan, which is premised on acceptance of internationally accepted borders, after presentations by the presidents of Comora, Senegal, and South Africa.
Putin reaffirmed his position that the crisis was initiated by Ukraine and its Western supporters before Russia put its armed forces across the border in February of last year, which they deny.
He said that the West, not Russia, was to blame for the early-year steep increase in food prices that particularly hurt Africa.
He informed the team that because most of the grain exports from Black Sea ports in Ukraine had gone to wealthier nations rather than poor ones, they had not helped Africa’s problems with high food costs over the previous year.
And he added that despite Kyiv’s efforts to scuttle negotiations, Russia had never rejected the Ukrainian position. However, Moscow has repeatedly insisted that any settlement must take into account “new realities,” which Moscow has defined as its declared annexation of five Ukrainian provinces, four of which it only partially governs. This is unacceptable to Kyiv.
The African idea is shared by Moscow, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in televised remarks, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news media as saying it was “difficult to realise.”
According to Peskov, Putin expressed interest in the proposal, which was presented with 10 points by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and Russia will keep up communication with the African nations.
According to Lavrov, they did not bring any messages from Zelenskiy to the Russian president.
Russia, according to Putin, is “open to constructive dialogue with anyone who wants to establish peace on the principles of fairness and acknowledgment of the legitimate interests of the parties.”
There was no update on the bilateral discussions between Ramaphosa and Putin that he had promised to hold before hosting a summit in August with Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Since Putin was charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court in March, which he denies, South Africa, a member of the court, is in the embarrassing position of having to detain him if he enters the country.
Many Africans have been raising questions with regard to the fact that these leaders have not shown such commitment to resolving conflicts in the continent, stating that “charity ought to begin at home”.
Nonetheless, should these African leaders succeed in getting Russia and Ukraine to begin talks, that would be a major diplomatic breakthrough that so far, no Western country has attempted.