WAR IN EUROPE
Ukraine welcomes SA’s contribution to its peace initiative after Jeddah talks
Following talks in Jeddah, Kyiv said SA can contribute to its peace plan by seeking the release of Ukrainian prisoners, the return of abducted children and the restoration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Ukraine says South Africa will contribute to its peace plan by seeking the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war, trying to persuade Russia to return Ukrainian children that it has allegedly abducted from Ukraine, and attempting to ensure the revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative which Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled out of in July.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, attended the second round of international talks on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace formula in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last weekend.
Mufamadi had also attended the first round in Copenhagen in June.
National security advisers and political directors of foreign policy departments of 38 countries, apart from Ukraine itself, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, attended the Jeddah meeting – almost three times the number of countries at the Copenhagen meeting.
The talks, chaired by Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s presidential office, notably excluded Russia, the main belligerent in the war, but included for the first time China, its close ally.
Participating countries were Saudi Arabia, Australia, Argentina, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia, Egypt, India, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Canada, Qatar, China, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Poland, South Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Comoros, the US, Turkey, Finland, France, the Czech Republic, Chile, Sweden and Japan.
Most are close allies of Ukraine, though the participation of “non-aligned” countries like China, Egypt, India and South Africa was a result of Ukraine’s effort to broaden the initiative.
Yermak said the increased attendance in the “very productive consultations” in Jeddah indicated the world’s great interest in establishing a sustainable and lasting peace.
“There were different views, but all the participants demonstrated their countries’ commitment to the principles of the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and inviolability of the territorial integrity of states. And it is on these principles that President Zelensky’s Peace Formula is built…” said Yermak.
Ukraine said the Jeddah meeting took a step towards the practical implementation of the peace formula proposed by Ukraine which calls for, among other things, Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukraine’s territory.
Ukraine is asking individual countries to participate in different parts of the peace plan, even if they do not necessarily agree with it all.
SA’s ‘effective contribution’
The Ukraine presidency’s website said that Yermak had “noted that the South African Republic could make an effective contribution to the issue of the release of Ukrainian prisoners, the return of deported children and ensuring food security, in particular, the extension of the grain agreement”.
This was because these are already objectives of the African peace initiative of seven African presidents, which Ramaphosa is already informally leading.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told Daily Maverick: “We are already working on those issues as part of the African peace initiative.”
The African presidents met Zelensky in Kyiv and Putin in St Petersburg in June, and again at the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg last month, to present their plan.
But Putin said he would only restore the grain initiative – in which Russia lifted its blockade of Ukrainian ports to allow Ukrainian grain to be exported to the world – when the West lifted all its restrictions on the export of Russian food and fertiliser.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Putin rejects Ramaphosa’s appeal to reinstate Black Sea Grain Initiative
In a statement last week, the seven African presidents implicitly backed Putin’s stance by calling on Western countries to lift such restrictions on Russia to enable the Black Sea Grain Initiative to be resumed.
Western countries insist that Russian food and fertilisers are specifically exempt from the broad sanctions they have imposed on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
A ‘just peace’ initiative
Olexiy Haran, professor of comparative politics at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, said the Copenhagen-Jeddah initiative was the most coherent of the several Ukraine peace efforts because its objective was a “just peace” – not just any peace, “not just a ceasefire”.
A ceasefire would merely freeze Russia’s occupation of considerable Ukrainian territory.
International relations expert Vira Konstantynova, former foreign policy adviser to the chairperson of the Ukrainian Parliament, said the broad participation in the Ukraine peace initiative reflected the common understanding of governments that Russia’s war against a sovereign nation was unacceptable in modern Europe, violating the universal principles of non-interference of other powers into the internal affairs [of another country], non-violence, territory integrity and sovereignty.
Their participation also reflected the fact that the war had threatened everyone’s food and energy security, regardless of their political views or origins.
Haran said this was a new peace platform for Ukraine. He noted that South Africa, China and India had abstained from all the resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“That is why it was so important that the representatives of South Africa and India participated in the first meeting in Copenhagen.”
And it was also important that China joined in Jeddah. These countries had abstained at the UN because they wanted to remain neutral or non-aligned. But the Ukraine talks offered them the opportunity not just to say they were for peace, but to do something about it, realistically.
“So I think this is a new space for debate in the West and the Global South plus China, with Ukraine and without Russia,” said Haran.
But did it make sense to have peace talks without the main belligerent, Russia?
“I think at this stage it’s important to debate and find common positions without Russia because Russia is the aggressor and we know what Russia will say. Russia is saying all the territories which are occupied, these are our territories. This is not the way to peace.
“So that’s why it was confirmed at Jeddah that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is a prerequisite to moving forward,” Haran said.
And the Ukraine talks were also a way to increase pressure on Russia to leave Ukraine.
“At some point, we think definitely that Russia should join the negotiation table. And then it would be possible to discuss how Russians would leave the occupied territory.”
Konstantynova agreed that if Russia participated, its contribution “would be absolutely destructive…” If Russia accepted Ukraine’s right to its own peaceful and independent development, it could be invited.
Haran said Ukraine’s approach to the peace talks meant that countries could contribute even if they did not agree with all 10 points of Zelensky’s peace formula.
“Maybe you are not ready to discuss some of these points. But you are interested in food security, or in nuclear safety … you are interested in the withdrawal of Russia from the [Zaporizhzhia] nuclear power station. Or in solving human issues; exchange of prisoners; return of deported Ukrainian children. So you can find a place for your activity.”
He saw no problem in overlapping tasks among different countries such as South Africa, Turkey and Qatar, which were all trying to open grain export corridors.
“I think we have here a lot of possibilities for joint efforts for Ukraine, South Africa, other countries, to pressure Russia to come back to the grain initiative. To restore the freedom of navigation generally.”
He said Putin’s demand that the West should lift its sanctions on the export of Russian grain and fertiliser before it would restore the Black Sea Grain Initiative – and his claim that most of the grain had gone to Europe and none to Africa – were “crazy lies.”
And now he said Putin had gone further by threatening to bomb civilian ships that entered Ukrainian ports, which was a violation of the international law on freedom of navigation.
Konstantynova also warned the African leaders not to accept Putin’s explanation of the food insecurity which Africa and the rest of the world were suffering. This was entirely because of Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports, and its shelling of granaries in Ukrainian ports, not only on the Black Sea but also on the River Danube.
She said Putin was doing all this to destroy Ukraine’s economy which was significantly reliant on agriculture.
Haran also welcomed Ramaphosa’s raising of the issue of deported Ukrainian children in his meeting with Putin in June as part of the African peace initiative. Ukraine would leave it up to individual countries like South Africa how to pursue their contributions to the different parts of the peace plan, Konstantynova said.
“It’s important to exchange views and share experience.”
Konstantynova said South Africa, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey could form a “brilliant” group in tackling prisoner exchanges, the return of deported Ukrainian children and reopening grain corridors.
Each could bring useful different experiences and skills to the problem.
Turkey, for example, was a key broker of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and Saudi Arabia had already contributed to previous exchanges of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine.
“South Africa could play a huge and significant role in reinstating the
Black Sea Grain Initiative because of the political leverage and political power and recognition of South Africa as a leader.”
SA could specifically contribute to ensuring the security and stability of grain supplies and counteract Russia’s efforts to manipulate grain and agricultural products and to use agriculture as a weapon.
She warmly welcomed the African peace initiative which Ramaphosa is leading, saying it was “an inspiration to Ukraine to see that despite their distance from the conflict, African leaders visited Ukraine to try to find out what was going on and to try to find a solution”.
The next step in the Ukraine peace process is not clear. The different countries addressing the same issues could meet among themselves.
“But definitely there would be more meetings, more negotiations, complicated negotiations,” Haran said.
Konstantynova said she believed there would be at least one more plenary meeting in the same format as the Copenhagen and Jeddah meetings – though with even more countries, she hoped.
This could be next month on the sidelines of either the G20 summit in India or the UN General Assembly in New York, Haran thought.
Konstantynova said it was now important to intensify efforts to reach a clear vision on how to implement each of the 10 points of the Ukraine peace formula before the global peace summit which Ukraine envisages later this year.
Haran said the schedule of negotiations and meetings would depend on what happened on the frontline of the war.
Konstantynova said she expected Russia would try to destroy this peace initiative – like all other peace initiatives. But she remained optimistic about its success because the large and diverse number of countries which had participated in the Jeddah conference was a great signal that, despite regional, cultural, historical and social differences, the international community “all stand for international law, for an international rule-based order.” DM