SA will attend Ukraine’s peace summit this weekend, but not Ramaphosa

SA will attend Ukraine’s peace summit this weekend, but not Ramaphosa
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks as (from left) British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden listen at a media conference to announce a ‘Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine’ by the G7 states and the EU during the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 12 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Valda Kalnina)

President Cyril Ramaphosa is trying to form a government but National Security Adviser Sydney Mufumadi and director-general of international relations Zane Dangor will travel to Switzerland.

South Africa will attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace summit in Switzerland this weekend but only at the level of officials.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was invited but will not attend because of “pressing domestic matters that are well known,” his spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said, referring to the ANC’s negotiations to form a coalition or some other government arrangement, having failed to win a majority in the 29 May elections. 

He confirmed that Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, Sydney Mufumadi, and director-general of international relations, Zane Dangor, would represent South Africa at the summit at the Burgenstock resort on Lake Lucerne on Saturday and Sunday.

Magwenya also confirmed that for the same reason, Ramaphosa would not attend the G7 summit in Italy from Thursday to Saturday this week.

Ukraine’s special envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Maksym Subkh, said in Pretoria on Monday that 92 countries from around the world had confirmed participation in the peace summit and that Ukraine hoped the number would surpass 100 before the meeting began on 15 June.

The European Union (EU) ambassador to SA, Sandra Kramer, said the EU would attend at the highest level through the presidents of the European Council, European Union Commission and European Parliament, and all 27 member states would also attend.

“We think it is an incredibly important event. And we see Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine as an existential and direct threat for the European but also for global peace and security,” she said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zelensky urges global leaders to attend his peace summit next month

Moscow is trying hard to discourage non-Western countries from attending. China has said it will not attend. But Subkh, speaking at the Norwegian embassy said the other members of BRICS — Brazil, India and South Africa — were on board as well as new BRICS members such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates “and probably some others”.

“So that means that it is not a conference for the Western allies of Ukraine versus Russia versus the so-called Global South. It is an international conference.”

No Russia

However according to international news reports it seems that, like South Africa, neither Brazil, India nor Saudi Arabia will send their heads of state.

The reason some countries have given for not attending is that Russia will not be participating and so they believe the meeting will be pointless. Switzerland’s ambassador to SA, Mirko Manzoni, told a meeting at the Norwegian embassy on Monday that his government had invited Russia, but it had declined.

However, Subkh said Russia was not in any case ready to negotiate a just peace.

“It doesn’t want to reach a comprehensive, long-lasting peace for Ukraine. What Russia wants is to freeze the war, the frontline. So that means that Ukraine, according to Russia’s approach, has to give up its territories.

“This is what Ukraine cannot accept by any means.”

It would not be enough to simply silence the guns. Russia would have to withdraw completely from the 26% of Ukrainian territory it has occupied, including Crimea, he said.

Ukraine could not enter negotiations from a point of weakness. The summit this weekend would give it the international support Ukraine needed to enter negotiations with Russia from a position of strength, Subkh said.

He said that Russia would be invited to a second summit which should be held later this year.

Subkh said that in any case, the first summit this weekend would not discuss the main issue of Zelensky’s peace formula, which is a demand for Russia to withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

This first summit would address other (less contentious) issues, food, nuclear and energy security as well as the return of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia and the exchange of prisoners of war.

Ukraine’s ambassador to SA, Liubov Abravitova, said Ukraine had been under Russian aggression for 10 years (since the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas in 2014) and had since made more than 200 attempts at dialogue, without success.

She said South Africa had been playing “a very important role, crucial role for this summit” because of the participation of South African officials (Mufamadi and Dangor) at every meeting of the national security advisers since Zelensky launched his peace formula last year.

Subkh commended South Africa, particularly for its effort to secure the release of abducted children.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: What is South Africa’s role in Ukraine’s peace talks?

Fonteh Akum, the executive director of the Institute for Security Studies, said although Ukraine’s 10-point peace formula was not identical to the African peace plan (which Ramaphosa and other continental leaders presented to Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin last year), there were ways in which they could be integrated.

This underlined the need for African countries to engage with the summit in Switzerland this weekend. 

‘Spheres of interest’

Norway’s ambassador to SA, Gjermund Saether, dismissed suggestions that Russia had attacked Ukraine to stop Nato’s eastward expansion. 

“From our point of view, Russia’s problem is not Nato. It’s that democracy is spreading towards them. So Ukraine makes their own independent choices and has their own independent foreign policy. That’s the problem for Russia.” 

He said Russia regarded Ukraine as its sphere of interest, meaning that Moscow could decide what happened in its neighbourhood.

He noted that Norway had been at the receiving end of that concept for hundreds of years as it had been “tossed around by all the big powers”.

Africa had likewise experienced colonialism. 

“And that should be the end of this idea of spheres of interest.”

Manzoni said there had been a lot of criticism of the peace summit. Instead of sitting at home and complaining, the critics should come to Switzerland to discuss their concerns. DM


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