After Zelensky rejects discussions, African leaders set to visit Putin

After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected their requests for discussions between Moscow and Kyiv on Friday, a high-level African delegation was ready to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa insisted, “there should be peace through negotiations,” the diplomatic team had traveled to Kyiv on Friday to express the concerns of a continent that had been negatively impacted by Russia’s invasion, particularly rising grain prices.

In contrast, Zelensky disregarded that idea during a news conference alongside 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.”

Shortly after the African leaders’ arrival, air raid sirens sounded across the country as Russian missiles were detected, forcing the delegates to take shelter in the capital.

Zelensky said the strike on Kyiv during the delegation’s visit showed that Putin either did not control his army, or was “irrational”.

Ramaphosa, however, took the barrage as evidence that both sides needed to stop fighting.

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

In a statement, Zelensky said he had called on the leaders to set out their views on how to stop the “crimes committed by Russia”, and how to work towards food security.

“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 had gone first to Bucha, a town outside the capital that has become synonymous with alleged war crimes carried out by Moscow.

The group includes four presidents: Ramaphosa, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema and Comoros’ Azali Assoumani, who also currently heads the African Union.

The leaders of Uganda, Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville pulled out of the visit at the last moment and sent representatives instead.

The meeting came as Ukraine announced gains in a new counteroffensive, but Putin claimed on Friday that Kyiv’s forces “stand no chance” in the sectors where fighting has intensified.

– ‘Clear message’ –

Following Friday’s attack on Kyiv, the Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down 12 missiles, including six hypersonic ones.

There was no reported damage inside the city, but seven people including two children were wounded, the regional police said.

“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.

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

The African leaders were set to meet 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.

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