AFRICAN PEACE MISSION
Zelensky rejects any proposal for a ‘frozen conflict’
The Ukrainian President and the African Peace Mission appear to differ on the road to peace
President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking for the African Peace Mission to Ukraine, called for the de-escalation of fighting as the first step on the road to peace. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky retorted that complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine was the only route to ending the war.
These sharply contrasting approaches emerged after Ramaphosa, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Comoran president Azali Assoumani and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema met Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, in a day full of controversy, frustration and some peril to the African leaders.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, and Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso pulled out of the mission hours before its departure on Thursday.
In Kyiv on Friday warning sirens wailed and explosions sounded, forcing the African leaders and officials to duck into a hotel to use its bomb shelter during the day, Reuters reported. Strangely, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya disputed the reports of the sirens and explosions, reportedly telling News24 that the African delegation saw and heard nothing.
“There’s obviously some deliberate misinformation being spread here,” Magwenya was quoted as saying, seemingly suggesting that Western interests were deliberately trying to discredit Russia in the eyes of the African leaders.
Yet later, when addressing the media after meeting Zelensky, Ramaphosa himself confirmed the attack and even used it to bolster his case, saying that “the launch of missiles today does not deter us and has not stopped our call for de-escalation. It is precisely this sort of event that we witnessed today or even experienced that makes us call for de-escalation.
“There are offensives on both sides and we are saying there must be de-escalation as both countries proceed on the road to peace.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Peace mission commences – Ramaphosa and African leaders to meet Zelensky then Putin
In a tweet responding to the meeting with the African leaders, though, Zelensky presented a very different road to peace. “It’s obvious that the cessation of Russian terror and the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine’s entire territory is what can stop this war.
“Ukraine and the whole world do NOT need either frozen conflicts or wars on a slow burner. Peace is needed.
“Today we talked about the way to achieve a true and just peace without any Russian blackmail and deception…” he added. The complete rejection of a “frozen conflict” lies at the heart of the Ukrainian peace plan and also seemed to emerge as the key difference between Kyiv and the African peace mission.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba had last week explained to African journalists that Ukraine did not want a ceasefire and only then for consideration to be given to the substance of a peace deal. This, he suggested, would only freeze the conflict interminably.
Ukraine’s concern is that a ceasefire now would perpetually lock in the current position where Russia occupies large swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine.
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 (@CyrilRamaphosa) June 16, 2023
Ramaphosa nonetheless emphasised that the African leaders had listened to Zelensky’s peace plan “with deep respect to the people of Ukraine” and on Saturday would also listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin “to see how he sees the road to peace.” The African leaders are scheduled to meet Putin in St Petersburg.
He added that the African peace mission had also taken cognizance of a number of other peace proposals made by others. “All viewpoints must be put on the table” he said. He also noted that the African leaders had pointed out to Zelensky that all respected the United Nations (UN) Charter as a key instrument for all countries and would also talk about the importance of the Charter in their discussions with Putin.
The UN Charter calls for all UN members to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states and has been frequently cited by Ukraine and by the UN General Assembly as an obligation which Russia flouted when it invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year.
“We are not the first to have called for peace and articulated the need for respect for the sovereignty of countries,” Ramaphosa said.
On this point, Zelensky tweeted that “All the nations deserve to live freely without imposing an alien will politically or by military means. But no one can feel that their borders are protected and the safety of their people is guaranteed while Russia is trying to make aggression of foreign lands a global norm.”
However, Ramaphosa also added, that another key element of any peace deal was that there should be security for all countries.
“They should have a sense of security that their own sovereignty and standing is secured.” This seemed to be an implicit recognition of Russia’s claim that it felt its security had been threatened by the expansion of Nato up to Russia’s borders.
It is not clear exactly what else the four presidents told Zelensky but Reuters had earlier reported that the African governments on the mission had written a draft framework agreement for attaining peace.
It specifies several “confidence building” measures that should be taken to help create an environment conducive for a ceasefire, allowing the belligerents to build trust and to prepare to formulate their peace strategies. These measures include a requirement for Russian troops to “withdraw to an agreed location to facilitate negotiations” and for Russia to remove its tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus.
On the other side, the International Criminal Court (ICC) should suspend the warrant of arrest for Putin which it issued in March. And sanctions against Russia should also be lifted.
Perhaps the main problem with the plan could be that it does not specify how far Russian troops should withdraw. And as Zelensky reiterated after Friday’s’ meeting, Ukraine has been adamant all along that Russia should withdraw entirely from Ukraine as a first step in any peace plan.
Earlier in the day the presidents and their delegation were taken to Bucha, the district just outside Kyiv where Ukraine discovered evidence of atrocities against many of their civilians after their forces liberated the area from Russia early in the war.
A guide described to them that they were at a mass grave where 116 civilians, including women and children, were buried. Most had been killed “without reasons.”
Their guide added that in the several villages of the Bucha district about 1,400 civilians had been killed and more than 9,000 war crimes had been committed, including torture and sexual crimes. The guide told Ramaphosa that Ukraine was “surrounded by the neo-colonial ideology of Russia which tries to tell us all the time what to do and keep us under their control. And this led to their war of aggression. We Ukrainians are fighting for our independence.”
The peace mission has so far been fraught with incidental controversies, mainly the refusal of the Polish authorities to allow about 100 South African security officials and about a dozen journalists to get off their charter plane at Warsaw airport leaving them stranded for 26 hours until Friday afternoon.
The Polish authorities also prevented the South African officials from unloading about 12 containers of equipment from the aircraft, most of it weapons, sources said.
Read More on Daily Maverick: Mission impossible? SAA plane remains grounded following initial premature Polish clearance for take-off
Ramaphosa’s security chief Wally Rhode accused the Poles of trying to undermine the African peace mission and jeopardising Ramaphosa’s security as most of the detained security guards and weapons were apparently supposed to accompany him into Ukraine.
Poland’s foreign ministry issued a statement justifying this by saying that “dangerous goods were on board the plane, which South African representatives did not have permission to bring in. In addition, there were persons on board the aircraft of whose presence the Polish side had not been notified beforehand.”
It added that the Polish government had made every possible effort to prepare Ramaphosa’s visit to Poland and that the South African government “had been informed of all formalities necessary for the delegation’s entry into Poland and the required transport permits.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Standoff at Warsaw airport after officials try to confiscate weapons from Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit
Police minister Bheki Cele told Newzroom Afrika that Ramaphosa’s security had not in fact been jeopardised and that his close security supported by Ukrainian security officials had been adequate to protect him in Ukraine. He said Rhode had withdrawn his statement. DM