South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, leading a peace delegation from seven African nations, called for an end to the war in Ukraine during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg. He made this plea amid Ukraine’s refusal to negotiate while under Russian occupation.
This stance was vehemently challenged by Putin, who maintained that Ukraine has always declined to engage in dialogue.
Ramaphosa urged for the release of prisoners of war and the return of children removed by Russia. The International Criminal Court has indicted Putin for war crimes related to the displacement of numerous Ukrainian children during the Russian occupation.
Despite the call for their return, Putin interrupted the African leaders, claiming Russia’s actions were protective measures, arguing, “Children are sacred. We moved them out of the conflict zone, saving their lives and health.” This statement contradicts UN reports citing evidence of unlawful transfer of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Further, Ramaphosa voiced concerns about the impact of the war on Africa, advocating for a diplomatic resolution. The war has impeded Ukrainian grain and Russian fertiliser exports, exacerbating global food insecurity, particularly in Africa. Putin, however, blamed Western sanctions for the grain crisis, citing that only 3% of grain exports under a UN deal had reached the poorest countries.
Ramaphosa asserted, “The war cannot go on forever. All wars have to be settled and come to an end at some stage. We are here to communicate a very clear message that we would like this war to be ended.”
The African delegation comprised representatives from diverse nations: South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia, and Uganda, carefully selected for their different perspectives on the conflict. The African standpoint predominantly sees the crisis as a Russia-West confrontation, while each delegation member’s leaning varies – South Africa and Uganda lean towards Russia, Zambia and Comoros lean towards the West, and Egypt, Senegal and Congo-Brazzaville have maintained neutrality.
Putin commended Africa’s balanced approach to the conflict, which Russia continues to categorise as a “special military operation”. Despite such praise, the call for peace from this African delegation underscores an urgent need for conflict resolution in Ukraine.