African leaders pressed for peace in Ukraine as they met Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg Saturday but the Russian leader blamed Kyiv for a lack of talks.
The high-level Africa delegation traveled first to Ukraine and then to Russia with the long-shot goal of bringing the warring sides to the negotiating table.
Leading the delegation was South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who called for “the war to be ended.”
Putin reiterated the standard Kremlin line that Moscow is “open to dialogue with Ukraine” but that it was Kyiv who was refusing to talk.
“We salute the balanced approach of our African friends to the Ukrainian crisis. […] We are open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want peace based on the principles of justice and consideration of the legitimate interests of the parties,” Putin said.
Russia wants recognition of the territory it has either annexed or occupied, something which is out of the question for Ukraine.
Many African countries have been hit hard by the Ukraine war, well into its second year, particularly as a result of soaring grain prices.
Putin said the turmoil in the global food market was the fault of Western nations’ policies and not a consequence of the war in Ukraine.
The Russian president has been left isolated by the Ukraine conflict, with Putin subject to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) over an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
Ramaphosa raised this, saying “all children who have been caught up in this conflict to be returned to their homes” but Putin again denied illegally taking children from Ukraine.
Zelensky rules out talks
The African delegation, made up of leaders from South Africa, Zambia, Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal, and Uganda visited Kyiv on Friday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
They were initially greeted with explosions and forced to take shelter in bunkers as Russian airstrikes hit the capital.
The delegation voiced concerns that the continent of Africa was suffering under a prolonged conflict, with Ramaphosa insisting to Zelensky that “there should be peace through negotiations.”
But Zelensky rebuffed efforts to bring Kyiv to the negotiating table imminently, and ruled out any peace negotiations with Russia until Moscow’s troops withdraw from his country’s territory.
“Today, I have clearly said repeatedly at our meeting that to allow any negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land means to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering,” he told journalists in a press conference after the meeting.
The African leaders did not carry any message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to their three-hour meeting with Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ramaphosa’s office had previously described the peace initiative as “the first time that Africa is united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of our continent, and where you have a group of African heads of state and government traveling together in an attempt to find a path to peace to this conflict.”
Western nations have criticized some African countries for not condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and conspicuously stayed away from votes denouncing the invasion at the United Nations General Assembly.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Ramaphosa has been clear that he will not “take sides in a contest between global powers” and that he is pushing for a negotiated end to the conflict.
CNN’s Sarah Dean, Olga Voitovych, Nimi Princewell and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.