Russia-Ukraine conflict ‘far from being ripe for mediation’ as African delegation heads to Europe, say experts

Russia-Ukraine conflict ‘far from being ripe for mediation’ as African delegation heads to Europe, say experts
ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula with US Ambassador Reuben Brigety on 17 May 2023. (Photo: Twitter / @MyANC)

Mediation experts say the Russia-Ukraine war is ‘far from being ripe for mediation’, as President Cyril Ramaphosa and five other African leaders prepare to undertake a peace mission to Moscow and Kyiv.

Jakkie Cilliers, chairperson of the Institute for Security Studies, said most analysts who participated in the annual high-level Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development this week believed there was no space now for outside mediation: 

“Eventually, this war will probably be resolved by direct negotiations.”

Analysts believe a “mutual-hurting stalemate” that could push both Russia and Ukraine to the peace table is still between six months and two years away. 

Ramaphosa, who spoke on the phone at the weekend to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said this week they had agreed to separate meetings in Moscow and Kyiv with the African delegation, which also comprises Senegalese President Macky Sall, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Zambian President Haikande Hichilema, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

This is not an official African Union mission – it has emerged that the initiative came from the private London-based Brazzaville Foundation headed by Frenchman Jean-Yves Ollivier, who has long been involved in peace initiatives in Africa. 

In the 1980s he brokered a prisoner swap in which Angola exchanged the captured South African soldier Wynand du Toit for Angolan prisoners of war held by South Africa’s apartheid government. 

Some believe the contacts made then helped to secure the broad agreement brokered by US Assistant Secretary of State, Chester Crocker, in 1988 for Cuban forces to withdraw from Angola in exchange for South Africa pulling out of Namibia.

The Brazzaville Foundation announced on its website that the Ukraine peace initiative had been under way for several months. It would be led by Senegal’s Sall. Ramaphosa was recently included, “adding the weight of one of Africa’s largest economies to the initiative”.

Cilliers said he was sure that Putin and Zelensky would receive the African delegation graciously, since courting Africa was important to both countries. Russia, in particular, was concerned about its international image and needed allies and support. But he was not sure Putin and Zelensky would pay much attention. 

“The conflict in Ukraine is far from being ripe for intervention by others,” he said, adding if anyone could exert leverage over Russia, it would be China, “but we’re still a year or two away from that”.  

Cilliers thought the outcome of next year’s presidential elections in the US could be decisive.

At the moment, the US and Europe collectively had leverage over Ukraine. But the Europeans would not be able to step in if the US decided to significantly downgrade its support.

“The Europeans don’t have the means to replace American support,” he said.

For South Africa to be seen to be standing with that, none of the excuses fly – historical [ties] etc … they just don’t fly. Nobody takes that seriously.

Cilliers was assessing the implications of Donald Trump – who is sympathetic to Putin – or someone like him returning to the White House. He said the Stockholm forum, run by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, had heard that Ukraine was working hard to bind in its Western allies so that when it came to negotiations, there would be a united front that included Ukraine, with a common message. 

“They will not allow anyone to negotiate for them,” he said, though it was still too early to predict how the war would evolve.

“A lot depends on the Ukrainian counter-offensive, which is probably going to start sooner than later because time is on Russia’s side. Russia’s got more depth than Ukraine over time.

“Ukraine gains a short-term advantage with the infusion of Western systems and so on. But Russia just has so much more manpower and materiel, and Ukraine only gets that from the West. 

“So Western support is leverage on Ukraine and I think that’s the problem Ukrainians are very concerned about. That’s why Ukraine is so intent on maintaining and building and reaching out to maintain Western support for itself in the negotiating process.”

Cilliers said the Stockholm forum had been dominated by mediation experts who agreed that, at the moment, there was “literally no space for mediation”.

“And, of course, there’s an easy way to end this. Russia must just stop the war. For South Africa, it is a completely irrational argument to call for a ceasefire when Russia occupies portions of Ukraine.

“You have a permanent UN Security Council member who intentionally targets civilians – it’s inherent in the way they’ve approached this strategy. It’s threatened the use of nuclear weapons. And it’s violated every principle in the UN Charter…

“For South Africa to be seen to be standing with that, none of the excuses fly – historical [ties] etc … they just don’t fly. Nobody takes that seriously.”

Cilliers said the Swedes, who had provided more support to the ANC’s liberation struggle than the Soviet Union had – except in military materiel – were absolutely bewildered by the ANC’s stance on the war in Ukraine. 

He said the African peace mission, like Ramaphosa’s recent appointment of a dedicated electricity minister, rather looked like diversions from South Africa’s major problems and instead oriented towards next year’s elections. 

Meanwhile, US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety, met an ANC delegation headed by secretary general Fikile Mbalula this week to discuss Brigety’s controversial remarks last week when he said the US was confident South Africa had loaded arms for Russia onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R at the Simon’s Town naval base last December. 

Brigety also sharply criticised the ANC for the “outrageous patently false and incorrect” anti-American remarks in its international relations policy document adopted at the party’s recent conference. 

The document said the war in Ukraine “can no longer be described simply as a Russia-Ukraine war – it is primarily a conflict between the US and US-led Nato and Russia…” 

It added that “the US provoked the war with Russia over Ukraine, hoping to put Russia in place”.

The ANC statement about the meeting said Brigety had apologised for his remarks, but Brigety himself only tweeted that he was “pleased to have the opportunity today to participate in constructive and affirmative dialogue with the African National Congress Secretary General Mbalula. We look forward to continuing that conversation.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Pennington says:

    Fikile Mbalula clown prince of the cANCer

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    They are not heading there to negotiate they going there because of self interest. Pride comes before the fall.

  • Robert Douglas says:

    With the ANC taking legal action against de Ruyter for various statements in his book, one wonders whether any good legal bod will offer his services pro bono to defend him ?
    This is a time when defending right comes ahead of turning a buck!

  • Brian Doyle says:

    What a waste of time and money, especially with the problems at home they should be sorting out. If Mabalula is involved it would be a greater waste as he is possibly the most incompentent ANC member

  • Hermann Funk says:

    There’s a million refugees in Sudan, hundreds are dying, other African countries have been at war for years and these clowns want to start a peace initiative in Europe.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    That Mbalula could be appointed Secretary General of the ANC, says it all. Possibly – and the competition is fierce – the least competent and most embarrassing of all. Mr Fokol is such an apt title. He should not be allowed to comment on the weather.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The pro Russian cabal thinks out their own bulldust strategies

  • Johnny Kessel says:

    A meeting with Fikile Mbalula? This reminds me of the late Herbert Lom’s character in the The Return of the Pink Panther, when describing Inspector Clouseau pending visit to Gstaad in Switzerland. “Today a paradise in the Swiss Alps, tomorrow a wasteland.”

  • jcdville stormers says:

    They are going there to get instructions from Putin, the headmaster

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