A delegation of African heads of state and senior officials met with President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Saturday, the latest in a series of mediation efforts aimed at bringing an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Comoros and the prime minister of Egypt took part, along with officials from Uganda and the Republic of Congo, according to a readout from the Kremlin. The meeting followed Friday’s talks in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We are convinced that the time has come for both sides to start negotiations and end this war,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said during the talks on Saturday.
Ramaphosa laid out ten main points, including a de-escalation of the conflict by both sides, diplomatic negotiations and recognizing the sovereignty of states in accordance with the UN Charter. He also called for a reopening of the Black Sea so that grains can be exported, an exchange of prisoners of war and post-war reconstruction.
The African leaders will face an uphill battle to convince the warring sides to lay down their weapons. Zelenskiy has rejected any deal that entails Ukraine ceding territory to Russia, and Putin is unlikely to agree to conditions for a troop withdrawal.
“Ukraine wants peace more than anyone, but we won’t achieve diplomacy with Russia while they are on our territory,” Zelenskiy said Friday after meeting the African leaders.
In response, Senegal President Macky Sall said that, “when you’re fighting, you still probably need to have place for a dialogue.”
The mission was announced in May by Ramaphosa. The African states join France and China among those spearheading separate interventions to try and bring an end to the war, which will soon hit the 16-month mark.
Just over half of Africa’s 55 nations voted in favour of United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while most of the rest abstained as a way to stay neutral toward the biggest European conflict since World War II.
Africa, along with the rest of the developing world, has been severely affected by the conflict, which disrupted trade and pushed up prices for grain and fertilizer.
Putin this week hinted that Russia may quit a deal brokered last summer by Turkey and the United Nations allowing Ukraine to safely ship grains from Black Sea ports. The pact, and the millions of tons of wheat, corn and other foodstuffs shipped since August, has helped to stabilize the world grain market.
Moscow extended the deal in mid-May for a further two months but has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the pact. Russia’s decision on the grain deal will be announced in a timely manner, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday, according to Tass.
The war has placed South Africa in a particularly difficult position. It’s due to host a meeting of heads of state from the BRICS nations in August, but as a member of the ICC would be obliged to execute an arrest warrant the tribunal has issued for Putin, should he attend. Pretoria is now considering moving the gathering to China, which isn’t an ICC member.