Kyiv – Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Saturday with a group of leaders from African countries who visited Russia on a so-called “peace mission” the day after their trip to Ukraine, but the meeting fell through. ended with no visible progress.
The seven African leaders – the presidents of Comoros, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as the Egyptian Prime Minister and the main envoys of the Republic of Congo and Uganda – visited Ukraine Friday in an attempt to help terminate the nearly 16-month-old child. war.
African leaders then traveled to St Petersburg on Saturday to meet Putin who was attending Russia’s flagship international economic forum.
Details on the Delegation’s proposals were thin.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the three-hour meeting that the Africans’ peace plan consisted of 10 elements, but “was not formulated on paper”.
“The peace initiative proposed by African countries is very difficult to implement, difficult to compare positions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. But “President Putin has shown interest in thinking about it”.
“He talked about our position. Not every provision can be correlated with the main elements of our position, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to keep working,” Peskov said.
“The main conclusion, in my view, of today’s conversation is that our partners in the African Union have shown an understanding of the real causes of the crisis created by the West, and have shown the need to get out of this situation based on resolving these underlying causes,” Lavrov said.
Russia claims it was effectively forced to send troops to Ukraine because it was threatened by Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and the country’s support from the United States and Europe western.
Speaking at the economic forum on Friday, Putin said Russia’s first tactical nuclear weapons had been deployed in Belarus, describing the move as a deterrent against Western efforts to defeat Russia in Ukraine. He previously said the rollout would begin in July.
Asked if he could order the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, Putin said that was not necessary, but noted that Moscow could use its nuclear arsenals in the event of a “threat to the Russian state”.
“In this case, we will certainly use all means available to the Russian state. There should be no doubt about it,” he said.
The mission to Ukraine, the first of its kind by African leaders, follows other peace initiatives – such as that of China – and is of particular importance for Africa, which depends on food and fertilizer deliveries of Russia and Ukraine. The war has hampered exports from one of the world’s most important granaries.
“This conflict negatively affects Africa,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and four other African leaders after their closed-door talks on Friday.
Ramaphosa and others acknowledged the intensity of hostilities, but insisted that all wars must end and stressed their willingness to help hasten this.
“I believe that Ukrainians feel that they have to fight and not give up. The road to peace is very difficult,” he said, adding that “it is necessary to end this conflict as soon as possible.”
The delegation, including Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, represents a cross section of African views on the war.
South Africa, Senegal and Uganda avoided censuring Moscow for the dispute, while Egypt, Zambia and the Comoros voted against Russia last year in a UN General Assembly resolution. United Nations condemning the invasion of Moscow.
Many African countries have long had close ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.
Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Comorian President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “roadmap” to peace, prompting questions from Zelenskyy who asked for clarification and insisted that he did not want “surprises” from their visit with Putin.
Chances for peace talks look dim as Ukraine and Russia take starkly different positions. Ukraine demands that Russia withdraw its troops from all its occupied territories as a condition of the peace talks. The Kremlin, in turn, wants Ukraine to recognize the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed to Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and recognize other land gains it has made.
China presented its own peace proposal in late February. Ukraine and its allies have largely rejected the plan as the warring parties appear no closer to a ceasefire.
The African peacekeeping mission comes as Ukraine launches a counter-offensive to dislodge Kremlin forces from occupied areas, using advanced Western-supplied weapons in attacks in several sections of more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the front line.
In the village of Blahodatne, captured by Ukrainian forces during the counter-offensive six days ago, soldiers said they had orders to keep advancing and not retreat, pointing to long grueling battles to come in the direction where the Russians have built dense lines of fortifications.
“The morale is really strong because the guys know they are advancing to liberate their lands,” said a Ukrainian soldier with the callsign Skripal (violinist). “We have orders not to retreat and to advance, so we are trying.”
The village roads are riddled with craters, buildings have collapsed and bullet holes dot almost every residence. Inside a cultural center, a Ukrainian commander with the call sign “Lermontov” said they had captured many Russian soldiers during the liberation of the village and showed reporters four bodies which, according to he were Russian fighters recruited from prisons.
Sam McNeil in Blahodatne, Ukraine, and Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this story.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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