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Ukraine: African leaders meet Putin on 'peace mission'

June 17, 2023

After talks in Kyiv, the African delegation met Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging an end to the conflict. Meanwhile, Ukraine reports progress in its southern counteroffensive. DW has the latest.

Round table with African delegates and Vladimir Putin in palatial surrounds
Russian President Putin met with the African leaders just outside St. PetersburgImage: Pavel Bednyakov/RIA NOVOSTI/AFP

African leaders met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in the northwestern Russian city of Saint Petersburg, a day after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

After the talks at the government's Konstantinovsky Palace, Putin said he welcomed what he called the "a balanced stance" on the conflict in Ukraine taken by the members of the delegation.

A number of African countries have so far failed to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Putin also said Moscow was "open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want peace based on the principles of justice and consideration of the legitimate interests of the parties."  

He also told the delegates, without evidence, that the current crisis on the global food market, which has had a large impact on Africa, was not a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the delegation recognized the sovereignty of countries in terms of the UN charter, but that it at the same time respected positions put forward by both sides.

"We do believe that this is the time for both parties to negotiate an end to this war, which is causing a great deal of instability and harm," he said.

Ramaphosa: 'We are being negatively affected in terms of our economies'

Other African leaders in the delegation included Senegalese President Macky Sall, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who also currently heads the African Union.

Later on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on television that the Kremlin was in agreement with the main principles of a peace plan presented by the delegation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, said that although Putin had shown interest in the plan, it would be hard to realize. He said Russia would continue dialogue with the countries behind the plan.

The African diplomatic team had traveled to Kyiv on Friday to call for peace after their continent was hit hard by rising grain prices due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"There should be peace through negotiations," Ramaphosa told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and quoted Nelson Mandela several times during a news conference that followed the talks.

The calls were rebuffed by Zelenskyy, however, who said that "to allow any negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering." Zelenskyy has repeatedly said Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory in order for peace talks to be successful. 

While in Kyiv, the African leaders were forced to shelter when air-raid sirens due to the detection of incoming Russian missiles.

The Ukrainian Air Force later said it shot down 12 missiles, including six hypersonic ones.

While there was no reported damage inside the city, seven people including two children were wounded, the regional police said. 

African leaders on peace mission to Kyiv

Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Saturday, June 17:

Kremlin: Black Sea grain deal has 'no chance'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that there seemed to be "no chance" that a deal allowing the safe export of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea would be extended.

"It's hardly possible to predict any final decision here, but I can say that, judging de facto by the status quo that we have, this deal has no chance," Peskov told the Russian news outlet Izvestia.

The grain deal was brokered by the UN and Turkey last year to mitigate a global food crisis partly caused by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea ports. The deal has been extended three times, with the last extension running until July 17.

The UN agreed in exchange to help Moscow overcome any obstacles to its own food and fertilizer shipments. 

But Russian authorities say that restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance caused by Western sanctions in other economic areas amount to a blocking of Russian shipments. On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "How can you extend something that doesn't work?" 

Ukrainian ambassador calls for more Western support

Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, Oleksii Maekeiev, has urgently appealed to the West for more air defense systems, armored vehicles and tanks while reiterating Kyiv's calls for fighter jets and long-range ammunition.

In an interview with the daily Berliner Zeitung, he said such weapons were "very important for a Ukrainian victory" as the country fights against invading Russian forces.

Maekeiev said that although the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was well-protected against aerial attacks, more US Patriot and European IRIS-T units were required to defend other regions better.

In his interview, Makeiev, without naming names, criticized countries that were not condemning Russia over its invasions of Ukraine since 2014, saying that "this hesitancy is costing lives every day."

He also said Ukraine should be given security guarantees and a clear path to joining NATO, with a summit of the military alliance scheduled for July in Lithuania.

His published remarks come as US President Joe Biden on Saturday appeared to put a proviso on Kyiv's NATO aspirations, telling reporters near Washington, DC: "They've got to meet the same standards, so we're not going to make it easy."

Oleksii Makeiev
Makeiev has been the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany since late September 2022Image: BeckerBredel/IMAGO

Kyiv: Ukrainian forces advancing in the south

Ukrainian troops are making good progress in southern sectors in their counteroffensive against Russian occupation troops, Ukrainian military officials said.

Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on the Telegram messaging app that troops were "engaged in active moves to advance in several directions at once."

Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of Ukrainian troops in the southern Tavriia sector, said there had been 36 combat engagements and 578 attacks in the past 24 hours.

"The enemy's losses in killed and wounded amounted to more than four companies," he wrote on Telegram. A company typically consists of 100–250 soldiers.

Maliar also said Russian forces were trying to dislodge Ukrainian forces from established positions in the east of the country.

Ukrainian forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut, captured by Russia last month, were trying to push Russian forces out from the outskirts of the town.

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the head of Ukrainian ground forces, earlier described the situation in the east as tense, with Russia bringing its best divisions into the Bakhmut sector with backup from artillery and aircraft.

"Every soldier, every new step we take, every meter of Ukrainian land freed from the enemy is of utmost importance," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky said in his nightly video message.

Russia has not officially acknowledged Ukrainian advances in the early stages of a counteroffensive and said it had inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv's forces in the previous 24 hours.

Kyiv said on Thursday it had regained control of about 100 square kilometers (38 square miles) of territory in just over a week of its counteroffensive.

UK: Moscow reinforces attack helicopter force

Russia has boosted its attack helicopter force since the start of Ukraine's counteroffensive, Britain's Defense Ministry said Saturday.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry said Moscow had deployed an extra 20 military helicopters to the Berdyansk airport, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the frontline.

Britain said it was likely that Russia has gained a temporary advantage in southern Ukraine as its attack helicopters could launch longer-range missiles against Ukrainian ground targets.

Russia's Defense Ministry published several videos and pictures over recent days showing numerous strikes on Ukrainian-manned armored vehicles and tanks from Ka-52 attack helicopters and drones.

Moscow said its forces had destroyed several German-made Leopard tanks and US-made Bradley fighting vehicles while repelling a Ukrainian counteroffensive. 

Russia repels attack on Druzhba oil pipeline facility — governor

Russia says it has thwarted a drone attack on the Druzhba oil pipeline in the border region with Ukraine. 

Russian air defenses shot down three drones flying toward a pumping station near the town of Novozybkov on Friday night, the governor of Bryansk, Alexander Bogomaz, said on Telegram. 

He said three Ukrainian military drones were destroyed in the attack.

The claim could not be independently verified.

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in attacks on Russian territory, 

Moscow consistently blames Kyiev for the shelling in the border area, but volunteer battalions of Russian nationalists who support Ukraine claimed they were behind the attacks.

Governor: Russian missile kills two in Kharkiv region

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov revised the death toll from a Russian missile strike on a small Ukrainian village in the east to two people on Saturday.

Synehubov initially said on the Telegram messaging app that four people were killed as a Russian anti-tank guided missile hit a car driving towards the village of Huriyv Kozachok which is near the border with Russia.

Later he gave provided an update, saying that two volunteers — a 42-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman were killed.

Ukraine liberated many villages and towns in the Kharkiv region last autumn but since then the Russian military has frequently shelled the area, destroying critical infrastructure and injuring and killing residents.

Shoigu: Russia needs more tanks in Ukraine

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has called for more tanks to be manufactured "to meet the needs of Russian forces" in Ukraine after Kyiv launched a counteroffensive with Western arms.

Shoigu, who visited a military factory in western Siberia, stressed the need "to maintain the increased production of tanks" and better security features in armored vehicles, the Defense Ministry said.

The minister said this was necessary "to satisfy the needs of Russian forces carrying out the special military operation" launched by Moscow in Ukraine in February last year, it added.

Russia claims the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed but Kyiv says it has retaken several localities and about 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of territory, mainly on the southern front.

Putin: Zelenskyy a 'disgrace' to Jewish people

Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, a "disgrace" to people of his faith.

"I have a lot of Jewish friends," Putin told an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg. "They say that Zelenskyy is not Jewish, that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people ... I'm not joking."

Moscow claims Ukraine's treatment of Russian speakers in the Western-backed country is comparable to the actions of Nazi Germany.

These allegations have been contested by the Ukrainian government and the country's Jewish community.

Putin's insult caused uproar in Ukraine, with the country's chief rabbi saying he was proud of Zelenskyy. 

"And not only me. I think the whole world is proud of him," rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman told Ukrainian news agency UNIAN. "He did not flee and is doing everything to help the Ukrainian people."

The American Jewish Committee tweeted: "Putin's attempt to smear President Zelenskyy's Jewish heritage is a desperate and disgraceful move."

US: Stoltenberg could be asked to stay on as NATO chief

Jens Stoltenberg is expected to be asked to remain as NATO secretary general for another year, Reuters news agency reported Friday, citing two sources.

The Norwegian has spent nine years in the post and is due to step down at the end of September.

The alliance has struggled to decide on a replacement ahead of a mid-July summit in Lithuania.

Stoltenberg has broad support among the alliance members and continues to be an effective leader, the unnamed source told Reuters.

"The (Biden) administration is coming around the idea of Stoltenberg staying on for another year," said a second course, a US official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It doesn't look like there is consensus at the moment within the alliance on his replacement."

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace declared last week that he would like the job.

But, as some governments push for the first female NATO secretary-general, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is also emerging as a serious contender.

NATO to step up checks of undersea data cables, pipelines 

NATO defense ministers have approved plans for a new maritime center for the security of critical underwater infrastructure.

At a meeting in Brussels, the ministers agreed to set up the facility at NATO's naval headquarters in Northwood, near London, which will contain a new surveillance system of undersea data cables and pipelines.

It will be responsible for parts of the Atlantic as well as for areas in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

Recent reports suggest that Russian ships have mapped critical infrastructure in the alliance area, with a view to carrying out attacks on submarine cables to paralyze internet and other communications.

The new facility will also help to prevent attacks on energy infrastructure, following the alleged acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

Russia, Ukraine and other state actors are among the possible perpetrators of the blasts last September.

mm/kb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)