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Ukrainian foreign minister welcomes African peace initiative — and spells out two immutable principles

Ukrainian foreign minister welcomes African peace initiative — and spells out two immutable principles
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. (Photo: Hollie Adams / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Dmytro Kuleba says Ukraine has told the African presidents’ peace initiative that seceding Ukrainian territory to Russia is a non-starter in peace negotiations, and no peace plan should propose freezing the conflict and then trying to fix it afterwards.

Ukraine has welcomed the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin may not visit South Africa for the BRICS summit in August because Pretoria is concerned it would have to arrest him under an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said it was entirely up to South Africa to decide whether to move the BRICS summit to China, as Pretoria is contemplating doing to avoid having to arrest Putin. 

“But the very fact that it is getting more and more difficult for Putin to go anywhere in the world is welcome,” Kuleba said in an online briefing for African journalists on Wednesday.

He said the most important thing for every respectable country was to respect rules and principles.

South Africa, as a party to the ICC Rome Statute, should not allow Putin “to step on South African soil, or it should arrest him”.

Kuleba also welcomed the peace initiative to Ukraine and Russia which President Cyril Ramaphosa and other presidents plan to undertake later this month.

“We see value in talking to them,” he said, though adding that if the African leaders had a peace plan, they had not yet shared it with Ukraine.

But he stressed that Ukraine had told the African presidents that any peace initiative should respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. “It should not imply, even between the lines, any secession of Ukrainian territory to Russia.”

And no peace plan should propose freezing the conflict and then trying to fix it afterwards. Anyone proposing that did not understand the logic of the conflict, Kubela said. He noted that Ukraine and Russia had held 180 rounds of negotiations between 2014 and 2022, endlessly seeking a ceasefire in the Donbas conflict, only for Russia to invade anyway.

“If your peace initiative respects these two principles, then we will sit down and see how we can match your peace ideas with the peace formula proposed by the president of Ukraine,” he said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace formula demands Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukraine’s territory as well as Moscow compensating Ukraine for its destruction and Russia to face justice for its aggression.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa embarks on attempted ‘course correction’ of SA’s Russia stance

Kuleba elaborated on his recently completed second African tour which took him to Morocco, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique and Nigeria. Last October he visited Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Kenya. Kuleba described these visits as part of a “Ukraine-Africa Renaissance”, an effort to revive relations which he said had lapsed over the years.

New embassies

He said Ukraine would also open 10 new embassies in Africa as part of this initiative. It had already concluded agreements to do so with Rwanda and Mozambique, while other agreements were in progress.

Kubela’s African outreach is clearly an attempt to counter Russia’s strong influence on the continent. Kubela’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov was again in Africa last week, stopping in Nairobi and Maputo before visiting Cape Town for a BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting. 

Asked why he had not yet visited South Africa, Kuleba quipped that he had in fact “technically” visited South Africa last week as he passed through Johannesburg International Airport en route back to Ukraine from Maputo.

And he noted that he had recently met International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor in Portugal.

“I am ready to go anywhere when we have things to discuss and agree on,” Kuleba said, adding that he planned eventually to visit every African country.

He also said that South Africa’s close friendship with Russia “doesn’t worry me. It’s a reality I have to work with, to change it. That’s what I’m doing. I don’t have any emotions about it. I just know for the best interests of my country, of the international order, it’s important that some countries in the world change their attitude towards Russia. And we work with this reality.”

Kuleba said some countries did not understand that the Putin and Russia they had good memories of working with some years ago were different from the current Putin and Russia.

“So if you want to be friends with someone who gives orders to invade, to destroy villages and towns, kidnap children and transfer them to Russia to be forcibly adopted by Russian families; whose soldiers rape and torture and raze settlements to the ground — if this is the friend you want to have, well then this is your choice.”

‘Forced friendship’

However, Kuleba said for some African countries that wanted to remain friends with Russia, this was a forced friendship.

“They would be happy to relieve themselves of this friendship. But Russia’s grip is too tight. And when Russia loses the war, this grip will be eased.” He suggested that it would be prudent for African countries now to back the eventual winner in the war, Ukraine.

In reply to a question, Kuleba disclosed that Ukraine had asked South Africa if any arms bound for Russia had been loaded on to the Russian cargo ship Lady R at the Simon’s Town Naval Base last December — as alleged by the US ambassador to SA, Reuben Brigety.

He said Pretoria had denied this. Nevertheless, Ukraine would be watching South Africa’s inquiry into the incident.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Democracy dies behind closed doors — open the Lady R inquiry 

Kubela also responded to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proposal to Zelensky in a phone call on Wednesday of an international commission to probe the destruction this week of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of causing the explosion that burst the dam wall. 

Kubela said in principle Ukraine welcomed any international monitoring as it had nothing to hide. But he questioned why the international community had not demanded international commissions to investigate every time Russia conducted a missile strike against Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure.

Kubela said he did not think any international commission investigating the dam blast would be effective if Russia was part of it and that he did not know whether Erdoğan was proposing that.

Ukraine wanted to know what the composition of the commission would be and what its rules of engagement would be, including how it would gain access to Russian-occupied territories as well as the large area of territory that had been flooded by the bursting of the dam wall. DM


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