Vladimir Putin has met with a group of African leaders who flew to Russia on a self-styled “peace mission” a day after they visited Ukraine.
The seven African leaders — the presidents of Comoros, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as Egypt’s prime minister and top envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda - say they're trying to help end the nearly 16-month-old war.
They met with President Putin on Saturday in St. Petersburg after flying in from Kyiv.
The mission to Ukraine and Russia, the first of its kind by African leaders, comes in the wake of other peace initiatives — such as one by China — and carries particular importance for Africa, which relies on food and fertiliser deliveries from Russia and Ukraine. The war has impeded exports from one of the world’s most important breadbaskets.
“This conflict is affecting Africa negatively,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at a news conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy and four other African leaders after their closed-door talks on Friday.
Ramaphosa and others acknowledged the intensity of the hostilities but insisted all wars must come to an end and emphasised their willingness to help expedite that.
“I do believe that Ukrainians feel that they must fight and not give up. The road to peace is very hard,” he said, adding that “there is a need to bring this conflict to an end sooner rather than later.”
The delegation, including Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, represent a cross-section of African views on the war.
South Africa, Senegal and Uganda have avoided censuring Moscow over the conflict, while Egypt, Zambia and Comoros voted against Russia last year in a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion.
Many African nations have long had close ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.
Speaking during Friday's news conference, Comoros President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “road map” to peace, prompting questions from Zelenskyy who sought a clarification and insisted he didn’t want “any surprises” from their visit with Putin.
Chances for peace talks look dim as Ukraine and Russia take sharply different stands. Ukraine demands that Russia withdraws its troops from all its occupied territories as a condition for peace talks. The Kremlin, in turn, wants Ukraine to recognise the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and acknowledge other land gains it has made.