KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to host a group of African leaders on Saturday who visited Russia on a so-called “peace mission” following their trip to Ukraine.
Seven African leaders – the presidents of Comoros, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as the Egyptian prime minister and top envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda – visited Ukraine on Friday in an attempt to help end their nearly 16-month war.
African leaders traveled to St Petersburg on Saturday to meet Putin who was attending a business forum in Russia’s second largest city.
The mission to Ukraine, the first of its kind by African leaders, follows other peace initiatives – such as that of China – and is of particular importance for Africa which depends on food and fertilizer deliveries from Russia and Ukraine. The war has hampered exports from one of the world’s most important granaries.
“This conflict negatively affects Africa,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and four other African leaders after their closed-door talks on Friday.
Ramaphosa and others acknowledged the intensity of hostilities, but insisted that all wars must end and stressed their willingness to help hasten this.
“I believe that Ukrainians feel that they have to fight and not give up. The road to peace is very difficult,” he said, adding that “it is necessary to end this conflict as soon as possible.”
The delegation, including Senegalese President Macky Sall and Presidents Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, represented a cross section of African views on the war.
South Africa, Senegal and Uganda avoided censuring Moscow for the dispute, while Egypt, Zambia and the Comoros voted against Russia last year in a UN General Assembly resolution. United Nations condemning the invasion of Moscow.
Many African countries have long had close ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.
Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Comorian President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “roadmap” to peace, prompting questions from Zelenskyy who asked for clarification and insisted that he did not want “surprises” from their visit with Putin.
Chances for peace talks look dim as Ukraine and Russia take starkly different positions. Ukraine demands that Russia withdraw its troops from all its occupied territories as a condition of the peace talks. The Kremlin, in turn, wants Ukraine to recognize Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed to Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and recognize other land gains it has made.
China presented its own peace proposal in late February. Ukraine and its allies have largely rejected the plan as the warring parties appear no closer to a ceasefire.
The African peace mission comes as Ukraine launches a counter-offensive to dislodge Kremlin forces from occupied areas, using advanced Western-supplied weapons in attacks in several sections of more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the front line.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine