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The war in Ukraine must stop, South Africa’s Ramaphosa told Putin

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – who is in Russia as part of a peace-seeking delegation – has told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the war in Ukraine must stop.

Ramaphosa outlined a 10-point African peace initiative seeking agreement on a series of “confidence-building measures” – even as Ukraine launched a counteroffensive to push back Russian forces last week.

“This war must end… it must be settled through negotiations and through diplomatic means,” Ramaphosa said in St. Petersburg at the 18th-century Konstantinovsky Palace on Saturday.

He added his delegation, made up of seven African leaders, “brought a very clear message: this war must end”.

“This war is having a negative impact on the African continent and indeed many other countries around the world,” Ramaphosa said.

Putin blocked African leaders seeking to mediate in the Ukraine conflict from opening comments on why he believed many of their proposals were misguided.

He reiterated his position that Ukraine and the West had been in conflict long before Russia sent its armed forces to the border in February last year. He said Russia had never rejected talks with the Ukrainian side, which was blocked by Kiev.

In this handout photo taken by RIA Novosti on June 17, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) attends a meeting with representatives of African leaders at Strelna's Constantine (Konstantinovsky) Palace outside St. Petersburg.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with representatives of African leaders at the Constantine Palace [Pavel Bednyakov/Ria Novosti via AFP]

The group also includes the leaders of Egypt, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Zambia, Uganda and Comoros. On Friday, the delegation held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev.

The Ukrainian leader said after the meeting with the leaders that peace talks with Russia will be possible only if Moscow withdraws its forces from the occupied Ukrainian territory.

“We have come to listen to you and through you to hear the voice of the Russian people,” Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who currently heads the African Union, told Putin. “We wanted to encourage you to enter into negotiations with Ukraine.”

African countries have been divided over their response to the conflict, with some siding with Ukraine, while others have remained neutral or gravitated toward Moscow.

During his meeting with Zelenskyi, the Ukrainian president urged African leaders to ask Putin to release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure.

‘Balanced’ approach

Putin, 70, on Saturday praised African countries’ “balanced approach” to the Ukraine conflict.

“We welcome the balanced approach of African friends to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told the visiting leaders. “We are open to constructive dialogue with all those who seek peace based on the principle of respect for each other’s interests as well as justice.”

The Russian leader also said that an agreement ensuring safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea was not helping to solve Africa’s problem of high global food prices – as only 3 percent went to poorer countries.

Putin said the food crisis was caused by the actions of Western countries, not a “special military operation” by Russia in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday there was “no chance” of extending the agreement allowing Ukraine to safely export grain across the Black Sea through Russian-controlled waters.

“It is hardly possible to predict any final decision here, but I can say that, realistically judging by the status quo we have, this deal has no chance,” Peskov told Russian news outlet Izvestia.

Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from Moscow, said that while many were skeptical that the peace mission could lead to a breakthrough between Russia and Ukraine, some argued that African leaders might be able to bring experience of internal and regional conflicts. box solution”.

“However, this crisis is multi-layered and intertwined … and that is why it is so complex. Americans, Europeans, Chinese … everyone is trying to have their own say on this, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved anytime soon.”

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