Egypt's Prime Minister Mustafa Madbuly, Senegal's President Macky Sall, President of the Union of Comoros Azali Assoumani, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema talk during their meeting in Kyiv on June 16, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office photo via AP)
International News

African Leaders Set To Meet Putin As Zelensky Rules Out Talks

A delegation of African leaders on Saturday was in the process of preparing for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This comes after their unsuccessful attempts to initiate discussions between Moscow and Kyiv, which were rejected by Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

The diplomatic group had traveled to Kyiv on Friday with the purpose of expressing the concerns of a continent that has endured the consequences of Russia’s invasion. One pressing issue was the escalating grain prices, affecting various African nations.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasized the imperative of achieving peace through constructive negotiations.

But Zelensky ruled out that possibility during a joint press conference with the delegates, telling reporters: “I clearly said several times at our meeting that to allow any negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering.”

Following the arrival of the African leaders, a wave of tension engulfed the nation as air raid sirens reverberated throughout the country, indicating the detection of Russian missiles.

The delegates were compelled to seek shelter within the capital in response to the imminent threat.

Zelensky voiced his opinion, suggesting that either Putin lacked control over his armed forces or acted in an irrational maner.


Conversely, Ramaphosa interpreted the barrage as a compelling demonstration that both sides involved in the conflict needed to halt their hostilities. The event further underscored the urgency for a cessation of fighting and a pursuit of peaceful resolution.

“It is precisely that type of event that we saw today…that makes us call for de-esclation,” Ramaphosa said, quoting Nelson Mandela several times on the need for peace.

In an official statement, Zelensky conveyed that he had urged the visiting leaders to articulate their perspectives on effectively putting an end to the “crimes perpetrated by Russia” and devising strategies to ensure food security.

Zelensky sought input from the delegation in order to address the ongoing challenges posed by Russia’s actions and to establish a path towards long-term stability and self-sufficiency in terms of sustenance.

“But first of all, we must restore the full force of the UN Charter and stop this brutal Russian aggression and free our land,” he added.

The African delegation embarked on their visit by first traveling to Bucha, a town situated outside the capital, which has become synonymous with alleged war crimes attributed to Moscow.

The inclusion of four presidents within the group highlighted its significance, namely Ramaphosa of South Africa, Macky Sall of Senegal, Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, and Azali Assoumani of Comoros, who also serves as the current head of the African Union.

Uganda, Egypt, and Congo-Brazzaville leaders withdrew from the visit at the eleventh hour and instead dispatched representatives instead.

The timing of the meeting coincided with Ukraine’s announcement of advancements in a fresh counteroffensive, while Putin contended on Friday that Kyiv’s forces had no chance of success in the intensified battle zones.

In response to the attack on Kyiv the previous day, the Ukrainian Air Force reported shooting down 12 missiles, including six hypersonic ones. No significant damage within the city was reported, but regional authorities confirmed that seven people, including two children, sustained injuries.

“With what happened today, it’s very obvious also to the African leaders how sincere Putin is about stopping the conflict,” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Ukrainian officials were also quick to call attention to the strike.

“Russina missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

African leaders were scheduled to meet with Putin in the northwestern Russian city of Saint Petersburg on Saturday.

“In our view, it is important to listen very carefully to what both countries have to say, and tomorrow we are now going to listen to President Putin,” Ramaphosa said.

In the annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg, Putin exhibited a lack of interest in peace talks, revealing his plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. In addition, he referred to Zelensky as “a disgrace to the Jewish people.”

In March, Russia initially disclosed its intentions to station tactical nuclear arms in its neighboring ally, Belarus. Putin confirmed on Friday that the “first nuclear warheads have been delivered to the territory of Belarus.”

The weapons were intended to serve as a deterrent against anyone contemplating a strategic defeat against Russia.

At the forum, Putin also mentioned that he had numerous Jewish friends who had informed him that Zelensky does not identify as Jewish and is considered a disgrace to the Jewish community.

Despite Zelensky’s Jewish heritage, Moscow has used the justification of “de-Nazifying” Ukraine to support its war efforts.

Analysts believe that the delegation’s mediation efforts could potentially secure some concessions from the Kremlin ahead of the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for next month. The African continent has been severely affected by escalating grain and fertilizer prices, as well as the broader impact on global trade since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

“This conflict is also affecting African countries negatively, touching on the livelihoods of 1.2 or 1.3 billion people on the African continent,” Ramaphosa said.

African nations have shown a divided stance in response to the war, with some aligning themselves with Ukraine, while others have chosen to remain neutral or lean towards Moscow.

South Africa, in particular, has faced scrutiny for its refusal to denounce the offensive initiated by Moscow.