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Ukraine tells African mission no peace talks with Russia before withdrawal

Published 06/16/2023, 04:32 AM
Updated 06/16/2023, 04:22 PM
© Reuters. African Heads of State and Government, including South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zambia's Hakainde Hichilema, participating in the African Leaders Peace Mission, hold a consultation while en route from Warsaw to Kyiv by train, 15 June 2023 Go

By Pavel Polityuk and Olena Harmash

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after meeting African leaders in Kyiv on Friday that peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdraws its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory.

And Zelenskiy said he failed to understand what could be gained from the leaders meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in St Petersburg, Russia's second city.

"...This is their decision, how logical it is, I don't really understand," he told reporters.

Zelenskiy's comments signalled no change in Ukraine'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 delegation.

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

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 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.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the leaders had come "to share the African perspective" and saw talks with Russia as part of the mission.

He recalled that South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela favoured negotiations and that "even when the conflict becomes most intense, that is when peace should be made".

CALL FOR FREE FLOW OF GRAIN

The President of the Comoro Islands, Azali Assoumani, current chair of the African Union, said the leaders had no right to steer clear of negotiations.

"It is not in our interest to simply do nothing. That would be cowardly," he told reporters. "This discussion is absolutely necessary. Let me assure you: we understand your pain. We have lived through it. And we will have a discussion with Putin."

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.

© Reuters. 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 June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The African leaders are seeking agreement on a series of "confidence building measures" even as Ukraine last week began a counteroffensive to push back Russian forces from Ukrainian territory they occupy.

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.

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