As the African delegation, led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, embarked on a peace mission to Ukraine, they were met with a difficult situation as explosions rocked the capital city of Kyiv. Due to ongoing air strikes, they were forced to seek refuge in bunkers; the delegation faced a tense and dangerous environment.
Ukrainian officials confirmed that their air defenses successfully repelled the attack, allowing the leaders to proceed with their scheduled Friday meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The primary objective of this meeting was to initiate negotiations aimed at bringing an end to Russia’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Following their engagements in Ukraine, the African leaders are anticipated to travel to Russia on Saturday to engage in talks with President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia’s missile attack took place just as African leaders arrived in the capital,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said Friday.
“Putin wants to demonstrate that he is ready to disregard the security of foreign leaders, he doesn’t really care, because he feels complete impunity. And anyone can be in the place of African leaders.”
“We remember that missiles were also flying when US President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Ukraine,” Yermak added in a Telegram post, calling on the world to take “the toughest possible position against Russia.”
On Friday morning, President Ramaphosa, along with other heads of state, including President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Hichilema of Zambia, President Azali Assoumani of Comoros, and representatives from Egypt, Congo, and Uganda, arrived in the country via train.
Ramaphosa’s office described the peace initiative as “the first time that Africa is united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of our continent, and where you have a group of African heads of state and government traveling together in an attempt to find a path to peace to this conflict.”
Amid President Ramaphosa’s visit, a standoff between Polish authorities and a group of South African journalists and security personnel accompanying him created a potential disruption to the visit.
The group faced a delay of over 24 hours before being allowed to disembark in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, where President Ramaphosa had previously conducted a courtesy visit with President Andrzej Duda. The proximity of Poland to Ukraine and Russia contributed to the heightened scrutiny.
According to the Polish Border Guard, members of the South African delegation lacked the necessary import permits for the weapons they had brought on the government-chartered aircraft. However, senior South African officials maintained that they had obtained all the required permits. Major General, Ramaphosa’s head of security affirmed their compliance.
Many African countries have faced criticism from Western nations for their perceived lack of condemnation towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some African nations have notably abstained from voting on resolutions denouncing the attack at the United Nations General Assembly.
President Ramaphosa, on the other hand, has been resolute in his stance of not taking sides in the conflict between global powers. He has consistently advocated for a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
Recent allegations have also implicated South Africa in supplying arms to Russia in December of the previous year, which has garnered attention and scrutiny.
The conflict in Ukraine has had a significant economic impact on African countries, particularly regarding food insecurity, grain prices, and fertilizer costs. The African leaders’ mission aims to seek a path to peace that can alleviate the suffering experienced by the people of Ukraine.
President Putin recently announced the possibility of providing grain free of charge to the world’s poorest countries, emphasizing Russia’s commitment to friendly nations in Africa and Latin America. The Black Sea grain deal, which facilitated grain exports from key Ukrainian Black Sea ports after Russia’s invasion in February 2022, may be discussed during the meeting between Putin and the African leaders on Saturday.