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Leaders of Ukraine, Russia agree to meet with African leaders regarding peace plan

 May 21, 2023

In an unprecedented diplomatic move, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to individual meetings with a delegation of African leaders.

Their goal is to outline a plan to end the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed this development, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Ramaphosa communicated with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts over the weekend and stated that both leaders approved of the "African leaders' peace mission." The mission will be hosted in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively. The team will comprise the heads of Zambia, Senegal, Congo, Uganda, and Egypt.

A Balancing Act between West and East

Interestingly, the countries represented during the peace talks reflect varying international alignments. Zambia and Congo traditionally support the West, while Senegal and Uganda lean towards Russia. Egypt has endeavored to maintain a balanced position in the conflict.

The specific parameters of the forthcoming talks haven't been revealed yet, Reuters reported. However, President Zelenskyy has consistently emphasized that peace negotiations can only advance once Russian forces have completely withdrawn from Ukrainian territory.

Support from the UN and Rising Anticipation

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has been informed about the African delegation's proposed meetings and has "welcomed the initiative," according to Ramaphosa. The South African leader expressed optimism about the planned discussions but did not provide a specific timeline for the visit.

During a state visit by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Ramaphosa emphasized the severity of the conflict and its wide-ranging impact, stating that it had been "devastating" and Africa "is also suffering a great deal".

The Economic Impact on Africa

Increasing global grain prices and the knock-on effect on world trade due to the war have had significant repercussions for African countries. Ramaphosa highlighted that while the ongoing conflict hasn't directly resulted in deaths or damaged infrastructure in Africa, it has significantly impacted the continent. The conflict's effects are particularly felt in areas related to food security.

Ramaphosa elaborated. In this context, the African leaders have begun to explore ways to help bring the war to an end.

Unsuccessful Diplomatic Efforts and Possible Outcomes

The peace mission spearheaded by African leaders follows a series of diplomatic efforts that have failed to halt the war thus far. A special envoy from China is set to arrive in Kyiv this week, promoting Beijing-led peace negotiations.

Last week, Guterres stated that peace negotiations were "not possible at this moment" as both sides were "convinced that they can win." Nonetheless, Ramaphosa's African initiative has garnered "cautious support" from Washington and several European capitals.

South Africa's Balancing Act

South Africa, perceived as one of Moscow's closest allies on the continent, has been careful to maintain its impartiality and has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions about the war. Amid accusations that Pretoria supplied weapons to Moscow, Ramaphosa stressed that South Africa had been under "extraordinary pressure" to choose sides in the conflict.

This African peace mission may serve as an opportunity for South Africa to bolster its image as an unbiased mediator and a neutral player on the global stage, particularly amidst rising criticisms of its purported alignment with Russia.

U.S. Accusations and South Africa's Stance

The recent developments come from U.S. allegations that Pretoria had supplied arms to Moscow, contradicting its neutrality. The peace mission might offer South Africa an opportunity to restore its image as a neutral player and mediator, particularly in light of allegations of its alleged alignment with Russia.

These allegations were fueled when the commander of South Africa's ground forces visited Moscow to discuss military cooperation. This was further intensified following claims by the US envoy to Pretoria that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian freighter at a Cape Town naval base in December.

Denial of Allegations and Reinforcement of Neutrality

South Africa's Defence Minister, Thandi Modise, vehemently denied these accusations, AP News reported. Modise emphasized South Africa's commitment to neutrality, categorizing that they did not send "fool, not even a piece of Chappies to Russia," using an Afrikaans expletive that translates to 'nothing at all'.

Reinforcing this stance, Ramaphosa declared that South Africa would not be drawn into "a contest between global powers" despite facing "extraordinary pressure" to do so. The nation has refused to condemn the Ukraine conflict, which has largely isolated Russia on the international stage, arguing that it prefers to maintain neutrality.

International Reactions

However, during a press conference in Cape Town, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indirectly criticized South Africa's stance. He pointed out that "one country cannot invade another with impunity,” emphasizing the need for clear disapproval of Russia's actions.

"We remain friends with Russia, but we cannot approve of what has been done,” Lee said, conveying Singapore's position on the matter. With such nuanced international responses to the conflict, it remains to be seen how effective the upcoming African peace mission will be in facilitating a resolution to the ongoing crisis.