Ukraine eager for SA and other African countries to attend Geneva peace summit

Ukraine eager for SA and other African countries to attend Geneva peace summit
Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's special envoy for the Middle East and Africa. (Photo: Supplied by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will next month push for global support for his peace formula, while Russia wants just the opposite.

Ukraine is hoping that South Africa and many other African countries will participate in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s global peace summit in Geneva on 15 and 16 June. Russia, meanwhile, is reportedly working hard to dissuade countries from attending. 

The Ukrainian leader will use the summit to try to mobilise maximum international support for his 10-point peace formula – which is anchored on a demand that Russia withdraw from all Ukrainian territory – before holding another international summit to which Russia will be invited. 

The Geneva summit will climax the series of four international meetings of national security advisers (NSAs) which Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak has been hosting since last June to build support for the president’s peace formula. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi has attended all these meetings. 

Ukraine’s special envoy for Africa and the Middle East, Maksym Subkh, told Daily Maverick in Kyiv recently that his government hoped Ramaphosa would attend the Geneva summit, and that he would leverage his “political and diplomatic weight in Africa” to mobilise support for Zelensky’s peace formula. 

‘Combine our efforts’

He noted that this formula was similar to the African peace plan which Ramaphosa and other African leaders had presented to Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and Russia last June. 

“So why don’t we combine our efforts to bring more countries to the summit and through the summit to declare openly and explicitly about the support of the African nations for Ukraine’s peace formula?” 

Subkh added that Ukraine appreciated South Africa’s consistent contribution and participation in all NSA meetings.

Ramaphosa’s  spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told Daily Maverick that Ramaphosa would be unable to attend “because of post-election processes that will be underway.” But someone would attend, possibly a Cabinet minister.  

Subkh said he hoped that other African countries would send their heads of state or government and he had been assured that at least the governments of the six African countries he visited last month to open new embassies – Botswana,  Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo – would do so.

 He noted that “more than 85” countries had attended the last meeting on the peace formula in Davos in January. 

Maksym Subkh, Kwaku Ampratwum-Sarpong

Maksym Subkh, Ukraine’s special envoy for the Middle East and Africa, meets Ghana’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kwaku Ampratwum-Sarpong as they open Ukraine’s new embassy in Accra. (Photo: Supplied by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

No invite for Russia – yet

Russia has so far not been invited to any of the talks – Subkh said Moscow would simply demand Ukraine’s surrender. But he added that at the Geneva summit, the international community which endorsed Zelensky’s peace formula should prepare the way for Russia to participate in a further summit or even more than one summit. 

The summit would help Ukraine to negotiate with Russia from a strong position and avoid being forced “to accept peace on Russia’s terms,” Subkh said. 

He was adamant that recovering all of the territory which Russia had occupied – now 26% of Ukraine’s land area – was a non-negotiable for Ukraine, even though many analysts fear Ukraine will be unable to repel Russia’s military forces entirely from its soil and will have to negotiate a compromise in which it gives up some land in exchange for peace.   

“We are telling our partners and our neighbours and the international community that if Ukraine falls, that would mean the fall of Europe at least.

“Russia will not stop at this point. And after it occupies Ukraine it will go further and will try to invade other European nations, especially the most vulnerable ones, small nations, maybe some of them which were a part of the Soviet Union before.”  

Order troop withdrawal

Subkh said the simplest way to end the war was for Putin to order his troops to withdraw completely from Ukraine. This was unlikely to happen.

The second scenario would be for everyone to abide by the decisions that would be taken during the Geneva global peace summit, around Zelensky’s peace formula. 

The third scenario, if Russia refused the first two, would be for Ukraine to continue fighting to recover its lost territory and prevent Russia from taking more. 

The second scenario assumes the participants in the Geneva summit would support Ukraine’s demand for full territorial integrity, he agreed. 

However, Ukraine has made it clear that countries could participate in those meetings even if they only supported parts of Zelensky’s peace formula. 

For example, South Africa and other members of the African peace mission which met Zelensky and Putin in June last year supported Point 2 of the peace formula; the support for food security, including the expansion of the grain initiative (in which Russia lifted its blockade to allow Ukrainian grain to be exported) and Point 4; the release of all prisoners and the return of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia. 

The African peace plan did not include a demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa meets Putin and presents 10-point plan to end war between Ukraine and Russia

However, Subkh  did not rule out the possibility of South Africa agreeing at the Geneva summit that “Russia would have to withdraw from all of your territories in order for there to be peace.”

“We hope very much that South Africa would support this approach.”

More weapons needed

Olexiy Haran. a professor of comparative politics at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy said, realistically, the future of the war would be decided on the battlefield as Putin was determined to crush Ukraine. So Ukraine’s main need from the international community was arms and ammunition.   

“However, we shouldn’t neglect any other opportunities,” Haran added. 

“I don’t understand why South Africa cannot call on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.” 

But even if South Africa and other participating countries disagreed about how to end the war, the Geneva summit could exert “diplomatic and moral pressure” on Putin to implement at least some parts of Zelensky’s peace formula – such as nuclear security, food security and the return of Ukrainian children and prisoners of war. 

“If Putin is serious about talks then let him… leave Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Let him release the children,” he said. 

He noted that South Africa had been quite active in seeking the return of the children, including support from civil society.  

“And definitely if Russia is presented with strong demands from many countries to fulfil at least several key points of the Zelensky formula, then we may consider it [the Geneva summit] as a success.”

Putin puts pressure

Haran said he had heard, however, that Russia was putting diplomatic pressure on countries not to attend the Geneva summit. 

Subkh said that although South Africa had offered to mediate efforts to return the abducted Ukrainian children, he had not heard if any further talks had taken place to that end. 

He commended Qatar, Canada, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their efforts in actually returning children and prisoners of war. 

Subkh said Ukraine was grateful for South Africa’s offer and agreed that in principle it should be a good idea for South Africa to use its good contact with Moscow to get the children home. But he added that Kyiv was awaiting more information from Pretoria about whether the mechanisms it might employ to do so “are effective enough to guarantee that these children can be reunited with their families with no risk to them.” 

Haran added that a strong African presence at the Geneva summit would bolster Africa’s case for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council because Russia had violated the UN Charter prohibition against one state violating the territorial integrity of another. 

Subkh told Daily Maverick that Zelensky had appointed him in July 2022 to help implement the “very brave decision” that Zelensky took after Russia’s invasion “that Ukraine must expand its footprint in Africa…”

So last month Subkh opened six new embassies in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That brought to 16 the number of embassies in Africa. Ukraine aimed to add four more, in Tanzania, Cameroon, Mauritania and Sudan, by the end of the year. 

Ukraine had also launched its Grain from Ukraine initiative to supply free grain and flour to developing countries. It had just delivered almost 25,000 tons of free grain and flour to Sudan in cooperation with the World Food Programme. 

Opportunities to exploit

“We believe that Africa is the continent of the future. Africa is developing very rapidly and we admire the progress that has been achieved by several African countries… to name a few, South Africa, Egypt, Rwanda, Ghana…”

Ukraine would also like to diversify its economic cooperation with Africa, going beyond trade in raw materials to jointly produce goods for the African market. 

And Ukraine would also like to exploit opportunities created by the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.  

“The presence of our diplomats on the ground will help us immensely to counter the Russian propaganda…” he added.

“So the information campaign that the Ukrainian embassies will start in those countries will be essential for promoting and protecting Ukraine’s interests.”

He said the African governments he had met on his recent tour said they had been unable to get reliable information about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine because their only sources of information were the  Russian websites and agencies spreading across the Continent.

“We must have people, diplomats on the ground, to be able to deliver timely, proper information about what’s happening in Ukraine, about the Russian invasion, about the casualties that are being inflicted on our economy and our critical infrastructure, about the deaths, the death toll among innocents,” Subkh said. 

Changing the narrative about the war would also help to win more African support for pro-Ukrainian resolutions in the United Nations and other international organisations. 

And a stronger Ukrainian diplomatic presence could also help African countries counter the malign influence of the Kremlin-backed “private” military company Wagner and others like it. 

Russia in Africa

Subkh said Russia was penetrating ever further into Africa, especially in the Sahel, and in countries like Mali and Niger which had experienced coups, where Wagner was trying to fill the vacuum created by France’s withdrawal. 

He said it was clear that Wagner’s role, largely in the Sahel, was not to fight jihadism, “but rather to destabilise the whole region and to put it under Russia’s influence by protecting the regimes, but not the peoples and the societies.”

Wagner and others were looting natural resources without helping African countries to increase their resilience.

African countries neighbouring the Sahel had told Ukraine about their concerns over Wagner spreading in the region. 

Ukraine could help them. 

“We know how to deal with Wagner,” he said, because Ukraine had encountered it as an enemy in the war and understood its tactics. Kyiv had a lot of information on this to share with Africa. 

Last November, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told African journalists in Kyiv that Ukraine had not so far made much of a return on its investment in better relations in Africa. 

African counterparts had not reciprocated his 12 visits to Africa and hadn’t offered much support for pro-Ukrainian resolutions at the UN.

We asked Subkh if the return on investment was improving and his answer suggested there hadn’t been much improvement yet. 

Since then, there has only been one UN resolution in the General Assembly condemning Russian human rights violations in Crimea, where African support had been slightly lower than the year before on the same resolution. Only Cape Verde, Seychelles and Sierra Leone voted for it. Burundi, Mali. Niger, Sudan and Zimbabwe voted against it. The rest – including SA – abstained or didn’t vote.

However, he added, “We are realists in this issue, so we see that the initiative must belong to us…”

Opening the new embassies would help. So would Kyiv’s recent establishment of a Ukraine-Africa trade mission to expand trade. It would soon open offices in Africa, first in Nigeria, then in Kenya, and later elsewhere. 

After the war, Ukraine would introduce more of its expertise to Africa. 

Improvement in SA-Ukraine ties

Relations between SA and Ukraine are looking up. They slumped in 2022 when Pretoria refused to condemn Russia’s invasion and abstained from several UN General Assembly resolutions which did condemn Russia. 

Since then, Subkh said, “relations are developing in the right direction…” although Ukraine would still like to see Pretoria voting for more Ukrainian resolutions. However, Kyiv was now dividing relations into two components; bilateral and multilateral.  

Multilateral relations remained a problem, he suggested. However, bilaterally the two countries had “intensive” political contact at the level of the presidents, who had spoken to each other several times, and at the level of national security advisers. 

“And we believe that South Africa can… play a leading role in supporting and promoting [Zelensky’s] peace formula among other African nations.”

Business contacts have also continued. Russia’s invasion had interrupted plans to form a joint business council and Ukraine wanted to revive those plans to help realise the trade and investment potential. DM

Fabricius’ trip to Kyiv was hosted by PEN Ukraine.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Its too late to make a sizeable donation to the ANC party. The Russians have most likely already done that through the back door. Nothing in it here for Naledi and her parasitic comrades.
    Zelensky already had a peace deal on the table at the beginning of the war, which the Russians presented. It was a starting point on which to build, but he was ill advised to ignore it. Now we have almost a million people killed in this war.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Ukraine and Palestine needs all the support they can get against aggression, any support for one without the other will create problems, the argument that Palestine is not a state cannot hold water because the same aggressors ensure that Palestine stays illegally occupied.

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