In a diplomatic effort to bring peace to Ukraine, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, along with a delegation of seven African leaders, held discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their visit to Russia. President Ramaphosa emphasized the urgent need to halt the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and encouraged a resolution through negotiations and diplomatic means.
President Ramaphosa said to Putin, “This war must be settled… through negotiations and through diplomatic means.” He further highlighted that the war’s negative impact extended beyond Ukraine and affected the African continent and numerous other countries worldwide. Prior to engaging in formal talks with President Putin, Ramaphosa expressed his delegation’s desire to see an end to the war.
The peace-seeking delegation had previously met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday. Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who currently leads the African Union, conveyed their intent to listen to the Ukrainian people’s voice and encouraged negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. The African countries have shown varying positions in response to the conflict, with some aligning with Ukraine, while others have remained neutral or leaned towards Moscow.
During the talks on Saturday, President Putin presented a list of reasons why he believed many of the delegation’s proposals were misguided, dampening hopes for an agreement. The African leaders had sought consensus on a series of “confidence-building measures,” despite Ukraine initiating a counteroffensive the previous week to push back Russian forces from occupied areas in southern and eastern Ukraine.
President Zelensky stressed that peace talks would necessitate the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territories they currently occupy, an issue Russia has declared non-negotiable. As discussions progressed in a palace near St Petersburg, Putin highlighted Russia’s commitment to the African continent but challenged the assumptions underlying the proposed plan before further statements were made.
Putin reiterated his stance that the conflict had been initiated by Ukraine and its Western allies long before Russia deployed its armed forces across the border in February of the previous year. This claim is denied by Ukraine and its allies. Putin also attributed the sharp rise in global food prices to the West, not Russia, which has significantly impacted Africa.
Regarding Ukraine’s grain exports from Black Sea ports, which Russia has permitted for the past year, Putin argued that they had primarily benefited wealthier nations and had not alleviated Africa’s difficulties with high food prices. He highlighted Russia’s willingness to engage in talks with Ukraine but emphasized the importance of accepting “new realities,” including the annexation of five Ukrainian provinces, four of which Russia only partially controls—an issue that remains a red line for Kyiv.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Moscow’s shared understanding of the main approaches outlined in the African plan. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested that realizing the plan might be challenging. Peskov affirmed Putin’s interest in the plan’s ten points, as presented by President Ramaphosa, and confirmed Russia’s commitment to continuing dialogue with the African countries.
President Ramaphosa’s bilateral talks with President Putin on the sidelines were yet to be reported. South Africa, as a member of the International Criminal Court, faces a delicate situation since Putin was indicted on war crimes charges in March, which he vehemently denies. As per the court’s obligations, South Africa would be obliged to arrest Putin if he were to visit the country.
While the talks continue, the international community watches with hope for a breakthrough in negotiations to bring an end to the devastating conflict in Ukraine and restore peace to the region.