African leaders start peace mission in Kyiv, hope to stop Ukraine and Russia war

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin and President of the Union of Comoros Azali Assoumani visit a church at a site of a mass grave, in the town of Bucha, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after meeting African leaders in Kyiv, the peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdraws its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory.

His comments after the Friday, June 16, 2023 meeting, signalled no change in Kyiv’s long-held stance on peace talks, despite the African delegation’s hopes of mediating an end to the 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, to freeze everything: pain and suffering,” Zelenskiy told a joint press conference with the African delegation.

“We need real peace, and therefore, a real withdrawal of Russian troops from our entire independent land.”

Zelenskiy made clear Ukraine stood by its own peace initiative, based on a complete Russian withdrawal, but invited the African leaders to take part in an international peace summit that is being drawn up.

The African delegation, including leaders of Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, South Africa and the Comoros, met Zelenskiy after being greeted in Kyiv by a volley of Russian missiles.

The delegation, which includes South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegalese President Macky Sall, are due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday.

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With Kyiv and Moscow courting the Global South, the African leaders see a chance to mediate in a war that has hit African countries by disrupting grain and other food supplies and aggravating price inflation.

Ramaphosa said African countries were prepared to participate further in a peace pact in Ukraine, and called for the free flow of grain. Ukraine is a major global producer and exporter in peacetime.

African nations have largely remained neutral on the Ukraine war. Some, notably South Africa, received support from the Soviet Union for their independence movements and have cordial relations with Russia, but most have closer economic links with the United States and Europe.

The African leaders are seeking agreement on a series of “confidence building measures”, but Kyiv has launched a counteroffensive to push back Russian forces.

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