Russia Says Regional Free-Trade Pact With Iran Possible By Year-End

The delegation of African leaders visiting St. Petersburg for talks with President Vladimir Putin said the war in Ukraine not only affects Russia and the region but is also taking its toll on the rest of the world, as group members said they sought to send a “clear message” to the Kremlin chief to take the “path to peace.”

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“This war has to have an end…. It must be settled through negotiations and through diplomatic means,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who led the delegation, said on June 17.

“This war is having a negative impact on the African continent and indeed on many other countries around the world,” Ramaphosa said. He said the group was ready to work as a mediator with the two sides.

Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who currently heads the African Union, told Putin that “we have come to listen to you and through you to hear the voice of the Russian people.”

“We wanted to encourage you to enter into negotiations with Ukraine,” he said.

The delegation — which, besides Ramaphosa and Assoumani, includes the presidents of Senegal, and Zambia, as well as Egypt’s prime minister and top envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda — arrived in Russia’s second-largest city after a visit to Ukraine, where they held talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on June 16.

Ramaphosa said he put forward to the Russians a 10-point “initiative in search of peace” but said the group’s proposals were “not in competition” with others that have been presented, likely referring to plans put forth by Zelenskiy that demand a Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory.

Ramaphosa added that the African nations “recognize the sovereignty of nations and countries in accordance with the UN Charter that must be respected.”

A Kremlin spokesman said the group’s proposals were “difficult to realize” but that Putin had shown an “interest” in them. Details were not immediately released.

Putin, whose forces have suffered heavy losses since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and occupy much of Ukrainian territory, told the delegation that he welcomed the “African friends’ balanced attitude to the Ukraine crisis” and that he appreciated their “interest in finding a solution to the conflict.”

He also said he was “open to a constructive dialogue with all those who seek peace,” according to the state-run TASS news agency, even as Russia stepped up its deadly air assaults on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

African leaders have been increasingly concerned that a protracted war will have an even stronger impact on their continent.

Africa relies heavily on grain and fertilizer imports from Russia and Ukraine and has been hit hard by rising grain prices.

At a joint news conference with the African delegation on June 16 in Kyiv, Zelenskiy reiterated that any talks with Russia at the current stage of the war would be in Russia’s advantage.

Ramaphosa had suggested that the war should be ended through immediate negotiations and called for “de-escalation” on both sides. But the Ukrainian leader firmly rejected the idea.

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

The Ukrainian president said later that he invited the African leaders to take part in a global peace summit that Ukraine is preparing.

“Ukraine will be heard all over the world, and we will involve the whole world in the implementation of the Peace Formula,” he said on Twitter.

The countries represented in the delegation have had different positions toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, and Congo refraining from a direct condemnation of Moscow.

Egypt, Zambia, and Comoros voted against Russia in October during a vote on a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion.

Putin, speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, said Russia has “never closed the door” on the idea of Ukraine peace talks.

Moscow has stepped up its air attacks on Ukraine as Kyiv launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive to reclaim territory occupied by Russian forces.

Even with the arrival of the African delegation — which includes officials from South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, the Comoros, and Egypt — the Ukrainian capital was targeted by fresh Russian air strikes.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the air strikes were a “message” to the African delegation that Russia was not serious about any peace talks.

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“Putin ‘builds confidence’ by launching the largest missile attack on Kyiv in weeks, exactly amid the visit of African leaders to our capital. Russian missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace,” Kuleba said on Twitter.

Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, also commented on the attack.

“With what happened today, it’s very obvious also to the African leaders how sincere Putin is about stopping the conflict,” Stano said.

With reporting by Reuters and AP