What has Africa’s Ukraine-Russia peace mission achieved?

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed as “historic” last week’s trip of African leaders to Ukraine and Russia, describing it as “the first time African leaders have embarked on a peace mission beyond” the continent.

However, with neither warring side agreeing to peace talks, did it make any difference, or was it just an attempt by Mr Ramaphosa to secure attention on the global stage, amid mounting problems in South Africa?

An African contingent including leaders and representatives from seven countries met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the end of last week and over the weekend.

There had been hopes that the trip, which was announced last month and led by Mr Ramaphosa, would work towards ending the war, which has badly affected living standards in Africa.

The delegation from South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia, and Uganda put forward a 10-point proposal, including a recognition of Russia and Ukraine’s sovereignty and continued unhindered grain exports.

They also called for a de-escalation of fighting and for negotiations to commence with urgency, for the release of prisoners of war and for greater humanitarian support, among other requests.

Both Russia and Ukraine agreed to continue engagement, South Africa said, but on Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to dismiss large chunks of the plan. Ukraine also appeared lukewarm.

The conflict has led to a shortage of grain and fertiliser in many African countries, which import the commodities from Ukraine and Russia respectively. This has led to a spike in food prices around the world, especially in Africa.

The Africa Development Bank says the war is directly responsible for a shortage of about 30 million tonnes of grain on the continent.

President Putin has been threatening to not renew a deal to let Ukrainian grain ships headed for Africa pass through Russian-controlled ports on the Black Sea.

It’s not the first time Mr Putin has threatened to do this, but if he follows through this time, it could exacerbate food shortages on the continent – which African leaders are keen to avoid at all costs. Although it is thought unlikely Mr Putin will deliver on his threat because he needs African countries on his side to avoid diplomatic isolation.

Alongside raising international awareness about the economic impact the war has had on the continent, African leaders were confronted by further calls to condemn the invasion.

Ukraine’s leader argued that condemning Moscow was needed to send a clear message to the Russian people that their isolation on the international stage was a result of their president’s invasion of Ukraine.

Both Uganda and South Africa, which formed part of the African delegation, are seen as aligned with Russia’s position. Last month the US ambassador accused South Africa of violating neutrality and supplying weapons to Russia, violating its non-aligned status. South Africa denied this.

It is also unclear if South Africa would hand Mr Putin over to the International Criminal Court, should he visit South Africa during the upcoming Brics summit in August.

The key aim of the trip was to help strengthen the case for a negotiated diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine, and in that respect, it has not been a success.

Both Ukraine and Russia reiterated before and after the African peace mission that they would not come to the negotiating table without certain basic preconditions.

For Ukraine, it wants its borders as they were in 1991 to be reinstated. This would mean Russia withdrawing from all the territories it has seized from Ukraine in the past decade, including the Crimean Peninsula. This is something the Kremlin is deeply opposed to, arguing instead that for negotiations to take place, Kyiv would have to accept its country’s “new territorial reality”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said that talks with the African delegation would continue.

Despite failing to bring the two sides of the conflict together, Mr Ramaphosa argues that his delegation opened the door for future talks.

Given his problems at home, including crumbling infrastructure, regular blackouts, and growing discontent with his government, Mr Ramaphosa may have been seeking to play up a win on the international stage.

Unfortunately for him, this peace mission has not delivered that win.

Source: BBC 

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