Putin, African delegates holding talks as part of 'peace mission'
African leaders are making an effort to bring the continent's challenges to the world's attention amid the Ukraine crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding closed-door negotiations with African delegates at the Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg to discuss the joint African peace initiative on Ukraine, a Sputnik correspondent reported on Saturday.
Putin personally received and greeted all the delegates.
The president of South Africa landed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday ahead of discussions led by an African team that is urging dialogue between Kiev and Moscow despite growing skepticism about their success.
After being battered by economic headwinds brought on by the conflict, African leaders are making an effort to bring the continent's challenges to the world's attention.
The arrival of President Cyril Ramaphosa in Saint Petersburg "follows constructive discussions with (Ukrainian) President Volodymyr Zelensky," the South African administration stated.
The team will "meet (Russian) President Vladimir Putin to seek a road to peace to (end) the 16-month conflict (that's) caused devastating economic impact, loss of life, and global instability," according to the statement.
Four presidents are participating in the mission: Ramaphosa, Macky Sall of Senegal, Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, and Azali Assoumani of Comoros, who is also the president of the African Union at the moment.
At the last minute, the leaders of Uganda, Egypt, and Congo-Brazzaville canceled their trips but sent representatives in their place.
Analysts told AFP that efforts to maintain peace appear to be in danger since both Moscow and Kiev believe they can prevail militarily.
In a news conference the day before in Kiev, Ramaphosa called for "peace through negotiations" and stated that "there must be de-escalation on both sides."
Nevertheless, during a joint press conference with the delegates, Zelensky ruled out that option.
"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... pain and suffering," he said.
Kiev's visit did not get off to a smooth start
According to Ramaphosa, "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."
It wasn't a smooth start for the tour to Kiev.
After they arrived, an air raid siren sounded in Kiev, which Zelensky claimed indicated that either Putin did not have control over his forces or was acting in an "irrational" way.
Ramaphosa interpreted the barrage as proof that both sides ought to put down their weapons.
The group also arrives as Kiev pushes its recently initiated counteroffensive and both sides are paying close attention to battlefield events.
On Friday night, Kiev claimed that it had achieved tactical victories "practically in all areas where our units are fighting in the south," but Russia continues to refute such claims with the attack repelled on multiple fronts.
"I think that Ukraine's armed forces stand no chance (in the south), as well as in other directions... I have no doubt about that," Putin said.
The conflict affects African countries negatively
This comes at a time when Russia continues to accuse the West of obstructing its fertilizer exports and threatens to renege on a pact that permits Ukrainian grain exports to restart through the Black Sea but ends on July 17, as the other part of the agreement concerning Russia continues to be overlooked.
One potential objective of the mission would be to ensure the long-term durability of an agreement that would allow grain from Ukraine to reach the international market.
Ramaphosa stated in Kiev that "this conflict is also negatively affecting African countries, touching on the livelihoods of 1.2 or 1.3 billion people on the African continent."
In advance of a conference between Russia and Africa next month, analysts told AFP that the mediation attempt might succeed in securing some concessions from the Kremlin.
Other analysts have predicted that exports of fertilizer and prisoner swaps will also likely be on the table in Moscow.
African leaders head to Kiev on a peace talks mission
The delegation of African leaders meant to initiate peace talks between Moscow and Kiev is expected to arrive in Ukraine from Poland by train on Friday, as the Ukrainian counteroffensive carries on.
South African President Cyril Ramaphonsa highlighted the important role that the diplomatic mission has to play since, saying, "It is times of escalated conflict that search for peace must be equally accelerated."
African nations have been hit hard by increased grain prices due to the Ukrainian crisis as their efforts hope to find solutions to an issue that has strong effects on the world as a whole.
However, the NATO-backed Ukrainian government has taken a rigid position, refusing to open dialogue with Russia and opting to extend military conflict as it carries out a counteroffensive on Russian positions.