African leaders begin peace mission in Ukraine despite Russian missile barrage

  • African leaders begin a peace mission in Kyiv
  • They hope to mediate between Ukraine and Russia
  • Russian missiles hit Kiev and officials report no deaths

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after meeting African leaders in Kiev on Friday that peace talks with Russia would only be possible after Moscow withdraws its forces from occupied Ukrainian lands.

Zelensky said he failed to understand what could be gained from the leaders’ meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

“…that’s their decision…how logical it is…I really don’t understand,” he told reporters.

Zelensky’s comments indicate no change in Ukraine’s long-entrenched position on peace talks, despite the African delegation’s hopes of brokering an end to a war that has raged since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“To allow any negotiations with Russia now while the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war and freeze everything: pain and suffering,” Zelensky said in a joint press conference with the delegation.

We need real peace and, accordingly, a real withdrawal of Russian forces from our entire independent land.

Ukraine has stood by its own peace initiative, based on a full Russian withdrawal, but has called on African leaders to participate in an international peace summit that is being put together.

The delegation, which includes the leaders of Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, South Africa and Comoros, met Zelensky after Kiev greeted him with a barrage of Russian missiles.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the leaders had come to “exchange African views” and saw talks with Russia as part of the mission.

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ukraine’s Attorney General Andriy Kostin and Comorian Federation President Azali Assoumani visit a church at the site of a mass grave in the town of Bucha, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine outside Kiev on June 16, 2023. Reuters/Valentin Ogirienko

He noted that former South African President Nelson Mandela favored negotiations and that “even when conflict becomes more intense, peace must be established.”

Call for a free flow of cereal

Comoros President Ghazali El Othmani, the current chair of the African Union, said the leaders had no right to walk away from the negotiations.

“It is not in our interest to simply do nothing. That would be cowardly,” he told reporters. “This discussion is absolutely necessary. Let me assure you: We understand your pain. We have lived it. We will have a discussion with Putin.”

With Kiev and Moscow courting the global south, African leaders see an opportunity to mediate a war that has battered African countries by disrupting supplies of grain and other foodstuffs and exacerbating price inflation.

Ramaphosa said African nations were ready to be more involved in a peace agreement in Ukraine, and called for the free flow of grain. Ukraine is a major world producer and exporter in peacetime.

African countries have largely remained neutral about the Ukraine war. Some, particularly South Africa, received support from the Soviet Union for their independence movements and had friendly relations with Russia, but most had closer economic ties to the United States and Europe.

African leaders are seeking to agree a series of “confidence-building measures” even as Ukraine last week launched a counter-offensive to expel Russian forces from occupied Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin has played down chances of meaningful peace talks with Kiev. She says that the conditions for the peace process are not in place, but she is ready to listen and open to outside initiatives.

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(Reporting by Pavel Politiuk and Olena Harmash) Additional reporting by Anna Proshnica and Tom Palmforth in Kiev and Joe Baver in Johannesburg. Editing by Kevin Levy, Timothy Heritage, and Grant McCall

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