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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Cyril Ramaphosa attend a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 17 2023. Picture: HOST PHOTO AGENCY RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Cyril Ramaphosa attend a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 17 2023. Picture: HOST PHOTO AGENCY RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday interrupted opening remarks by African leaders seeking to mediate in the Ukraine conflict to deliver a list of reasons why he believed many of their proposals were misguided.

Putin first welcomed leaders from Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Congo Republic, Comoros and SA to the 18th-century Konstantinovsky Palace on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, stressing Russia’s commitment to the continent.

But after presentations from the Comoran, Senegalese and SA leaders, he stepped in to challenge the assumptions of the plan before the round of comments from all the representatives could go any further, pouring more  cold water on a plan already dismissed by Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after meeting the African leaders in Kyiv on Friday that peace talks would require Moscow to withdraw its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory, something Russia has said is not negotiable.

Putin reiterated his position that Ukraine and the West started the conflict long before Russia sent its armed forces over the border in February last year.

He said the West, not Russia, was responsible for a sharp rise in global food prices early last year.

He told the delegation that Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports that Russia has permitted for the past year were doing nothing to alleviate Africa’s difficulties with high food prices because they had largely gone to wealthy countries.

He said Russia had never refused talks with the Ukrainian side, which had been blocked by Kyiv.

The African plan includes a call for all children caught up in the conflict to be returned to where they came from, but Putin said Russia was not preventing any Ukrainian children from returning home.

“We took them out of a conflict zone, saving their lives,” he said.

The African leaders are seeking agreement on a series of “confidence-building measures” even as Ukraine last week began a counter-offensive to push back Russian forces from Ukrainian territory they occupy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 17 2023. Picture: RAMIL SITDIKOV/RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 17 2023. Picture: RAMIL SITDIKOV/RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS

President Cyril Ramaphosa laid out the 10 points of the African initiative after Comoros President and AU chair Azali Assoumani told Putin: “We’ve come here to listen to you, and through you the Russian people, and encourage you to enter negotiations with Ukraine in order to put an end to the difficult ordeal.

“We gave ourselves this mission because, as Africans, unfortunately, we have had to manage numerous conflicts, and it’s through dialogue and negotiations that we have succeeded at resolving them.”

Zelensky said after meeting the leaders in Kyiv on Friday that peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdrew its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory. He said he could not understand what could be gained from the delegation meeting Putin.

Putin said Russia was “open to constructive dialogue with anyone who wants to establish peace on the principles of fairness and acknowledgement of the legitimate interests of the parties”.

However, Russia has said repeatedly that any settlement must take account of “new realities”, meaning its declared annexation of five Ukrainian provinces, four of which it controls only partially. 

Reuters

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