On Thursday, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa travelled to Poland en route to Ukraine and Russia as part of an African peace mission, his office said..
Ramaphosa and other African leaders are set to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Ukraine on Friday and with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
However, three of the African presidents appear to have withdrawn from the visits to Ukraine and Russia, sending their representatives instead.
Although the plans are very fluid because of logistical problems, it appeared on Thursday that only Ramaphosa, Zambian president Haidande Hichilema, Senegalese president Macky Sall and Comoran president Azali Assoumani would be directly participating, according to diplomatic sources.
Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and Republic of Congo president Denis Sassou-Nguesso have all pulled out, according to diplomats.
Sassou-Nguesso tried to persuade the other participants to postpone the peace mission on the grounds that the launch of Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia had made a visit to Kyiv too dangerous.
Ramaphosa and the three other presidents shrugged off this appeal and resolved to continue with their mission.
A document aimed at finding a resolution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is set to be formulated by the nations involved in the mission.
Foreign ministers from the seven African nations will draft the peace plan after the presidents have met Zelensky and Putin.
In May, during a meeting in Kyiv with Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, and former ambassador to Russia, foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, explained that while Ukraine welcomes the initiative by Africa, it should not involve legal or de facto secession to Russia of the Ukrainian territories Russia now control. Nor should it entail the freezing of the conflict and seeking a resolution only after that.
AEM understands that Russia has so far not tabled its conditions. Moscow’s main concern has been Ukraine’s alliance with Nato and the European Union.
At the weekend, Ramaphosa spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who endorsed the mission.
The SA Presidency said: “President Ramaphosa noted the peace plan that has been proposed by China and affirmed South Africa’s and the African leaders’ support of initiatives that are aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
“President Xi Jinping commended the initiative by the African continent and acknowledged the impact the conflict has had on human lives and on food security in Africa.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had adverse effects on economies globally and particularly poses a threat to food security in South Africa because of sanctions imposed on Russia. The Russian government supplies African countries with grain and fertilizer.
Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and occupation of Ukrainian territory have also impaired the production and export of Ukrainian grain to world markets.
South Africa has in the past few months faced a backlash over its non-aligned stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This led to South Africa abstaining from the United Nations vote on Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories, while 143 countries voted in favour of the resolution.
In a further escalation of tensions, US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety rocked US relations with South Africa by publicly announcing that the US was “confident” that the South African government had loaded weapons and ammunition onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town in December 2022.
Brigety has since apologised, according to the South African government, though he has not retracted his claims.
On the other hand, Pretoria has continued to strengthen its close ties with Moscow, despite the International Criminal Court in The Hague issuing a warrant for his arrest in March, accusing him of the war crime of abducting Ukrainian children and forcibly deporting them to Russia.
Since South Africa is a member of the ICC, it is obligated to arrest Putin when he is in the country for the BRICS summit in August.