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Monday, July 22, 2024

Peacekeepers from Africa: what is good and bad about their visit

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Belarus, Brazil, Vatican, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa. The number of countries offering their mediation in ending the Russian-Ukrainian war is constantly growing: leaders of many nations are trying to promote themselves in this war by assuming the role of peacemakers.

And so, the delegation of African countries (which included the Presidents of South Africa, Comoros, Senegal, and Zambia, the Prime Minister of Egypt, as well as special representatives of the Presidents of Congo and Uganda), who visited Kyiv and St. Petersburg at the end of last week, had an ambitious task: to end the war between Ukraine and Russia and encourage Moscow to engage in negotiations with the Ukrainian leadership. They arrived in Ukraine at a time when Ukrainian Armed Forces had launched an offensive operation.

Considering that neither Kyiv nor Moscow have achieved their military and political goals at this stage, the chances of success for the initiative of the African leaders appeared bleak from the very beginning.

African Union’s ten-point position

A few hours after the rocket attack on Kyiv, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa voiced in the Ukrainian capital the main components of the ten-point position of the African Union countries. They are as follows.

  1. First, the war must be resolved.
  2. Second, peace should be achieved through negotiations.
  3. Third, de-escalation of the conflict by both sides.
  4. Fourth, respect for the sovereignty of states and peoples in accordance with the UN Charter.
  5. Fifth, security guarantees for all countries.
  6. Sixth, Ukraine and Russia must ensure the export of grain and fertilizers.
  7. Seventh, humanitarian support for those who have become victims of the war.
  8. Eighth, a mandatory exchange of prisoners, including the return of children.
  9. Ninth, ensuring Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction and assistance to those affected by the war.
  10. Tenth, closer cooperation with African countries.

A call to provide humanitarian assistance to the war victims, conduct prisoner exchange, and repatriate children, as well as ensure post-war reconstruction of Ukraine are among the advantages of the mentioned framework document.

Drawbacks of the African peace initiative

Among the drawbacks of the African peace initiative: the principle of territorial integrity is not explicitly mentioned and is diluted in the formulation of “respect for the sovereignty of states and peoples in accordance with the UN Charter.” There is no mention of Russia’s payment of reparations for the damage inflicted on Ukraine and holding the guilty parties accountable. Additionally, one of Kyiv’s key demands — the withdrawal of Russian military from Ukrainian territory — is not addressed.

A few days before the delegation’s visit to Kyiv, Reuters published a number of measures that African leaders could propose as part of the first stage of their engagement with the warring parties. Among other things, these measures may include the withdrawal of Russian troops, the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus, the suspension of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Putin, and the easing of sanctions against Russia.

The document, quoted by Reuters, says that “the above-mentioned measures should be aimed at promoting the creation of conditions favorable to a ceasefire.” It is assumed that this may be followed by an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, which should be accompanied by negotiations between Russia and the West. These talks should address issues such as the deployment of intermediate-range weapons systems, tactical nuclear weapons, and biological weapons systems.

The differences between the versions published by Reuters and those voiced by Ramaphosa are striking. It is quite possible that the President of South Africa deliberately did not publicly disclose all the details of the initiative in Kyiv prior to his meeting with Putin in St. Petersburg. It is not excluded that the African diplomats simply crossed out the fundamental point for any negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow, which is the withdrawal of Russian troops after Reuters made it public: it is evident that this step is unacceptable to Putin, who considers the annexation of Ukrainian territories as part of his political legacy.

See also: The battle for the South. Why Africa supports Russia and how Ukraine plans to change it

However, during the press conference, Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that peaceful negotiations with Russia are only possible after a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the occupied territories of Ukraine; otherwise, it would mean freezing the war. Zelenskyy also announced that he presented the African leaders with the Ukrainian peace formula. It should be reminded that Kyiv’s basic position is that Ukraine is interested in initiatives from other countries for a peaceful resolution but exclusively based on the Ukrainian peace formula. In turn, the European Commission Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Peter Stano, on the day of the African delegation’s visit to Kyiv, stated that the EU would not support a peace plan proposed by African countries if it involves freezing the conflict.

Moscow’s dissatisfaction and response

However, the plan proposed by the heads of African states does not satisfy Moscow either.

“The African initiative on Ukraine is challenging to implement,” stated Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary.

Referring to sources in the Kremlin, one of the Russian Telegram channels wrote that they do not consider this plan successful or aligned with Russian interests. The Kremlin’s dissatisfaction arises from its perception of “vague formulations” in the plan. Specifically, they do not take into account the goals of the LPR and DPR (self-proclaimed separatist regions in Ukraine). The point regarding post-war economic recovery for conflict participants can be interpreted as a step towards the payment of “reparations.”

Meanwhile, sources from the “Secret Chancellery” in the Kremlin note that the plan includes “many useful and beneficial things for Russia, such as security guarantees and a call for negotiations. These points play into Moscow’s hands. Therefore, they will certainly be used to exert pressure on Kyiv.” In turn, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) states that the Kremlin is likely to use the proposals from the African leaders for peaceful negotiations with Ukraine as a means of informational pressure aimed at slowing down Western assistance to Kyiv.

In fact, this is what happened. During the talks with Putin, African leaders said that it was time for Russia to start negotiations with Ukraine and end the war. The Russian President replied that Moscow “respects” Africa’s position in favor of a peaceful settlement and is “open to dialogue” with anyone who takes Russian interests into account and that any peace plan should take into account “new realities,” i.e., the accession of five Ukrainian regions to Russia.

“But it was not us, it was the Ukrainian leadership that declared that it would not engage in any negotiations. Furthermore, the current President of Ukraine signed a corresponding decree that prohibits such negotiations,” said the President of the Russian Federation, while presenting the project of the Treaty on the Neutrality of Ukraine prepared by Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Istanbul last spring.

However, the Ukrainian side ultimately refused to sign the treaty.

With this gesture, Putin wanted to achieve a double goal. First, by showing the document (and in this case, it does not matter whether it is genuine or not), the Russian President threw a stone of discord into Ukrainian society, seeking to discredit the Ukrainian government in the eyes of Ukrainians and arouse distrust in it. Secondly, on the eve of the Vilnius NATO summit, Putin intends to emphasize in the eyes of the international community that Ukraine is “uncooperative” and that Kyiv is unable to fulfill its obligations.

According to Reuters, Vladimir Putin rejected several proposals from African leaders. At the same time, he said that all Russia’s actions to recognize the “independence” of the LPR/DPR were in line with the UN Charter, as “guided by UN articles, these territories had the right to declare their independence,” and Russia had the right to “provide them with assistance.” In addition, he argued that Ukrainian children were being taken away legally.

See also: Devil’s advocates: how international mediators act for peaceful resolution of the war in the Kremlin’s interests

Although Ukraine and Russia did not expect any significant results from the visit of the delegation of African leaders, both Kyiv and Moscow could not afford to ignore the initiative of African representatives: the struggle for the Global South was underway.

It is important for Russia to strengthen its economic and political positions in the Global South. The Kremlin, playing on the strings of the collective memory of Africans about the colonial past, manipulates anti-American sentiment and aggressively promotes the message of “war against Western neocolonialism.” And these narratives are quite popular among the people of African countries. Today, many African states are either neutral or pro-Russian and refuse to join sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine’s efforts to achieve support from Global South

Such a position from African countries cannot fail to concern Kyiv, which has been seeking support from Global South nations in its confrontation with Russia and aims to involve the leaders of these countries in the Global Peace Summit.

One way to win over these countries is through personal meetings between Volodymyr Zelenskyy and African leaders, convincing them that it is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine that has led to the shortage of wheat and fertilizers in Africa. This, in turn, has affected social stability and price predictability in the food market. After all, Putin accuses the West of being responsible for the global rise in food prices.

Wheat and fertilizers were indeed among the main reasons that brought African leaders to Kyiv and St. Petersburg. Notably, one of the key points of the plan was an agreement regarding grain and fertilizers.

During the meeting with the African delegation, Putin claimed that Moscow did not consider “the supply of Ukrainian grain to the global markets as a solution to poverty and hunger” and that the food market crisis was “by no means a result of a deliberate military operation.” However, the interest of African countries in a stable extension of the grain agreement provides grounds to assert that despite loud threats, the Kremlin will likely extend the agreement, taking into account the interests of African states.

Although the mission of African leaders did not yield results, it did not bring Ukraine any harm. And the Russian shelling of Kyiv during the African delegation’s visit showed the African Union representatives who the aggressor really is.

Originally posted by Volodymyr Kravchenko on Zn.ua. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: The Pope and the Global South. Why Ukraine should not count on Vatican diplomacy

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