A peacekeeping mission led by six African leaders will leave “as soon as possible” for Ukraine and Russia with the objective of trying to “find a peaceful solution to the devastating conflict”, the South African President announced on Tuesday (May 16th). Cyril Ramaphosa. Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky “agreed to receive the mission and the African heads of state, in Moscow and Kiev”, he assured.

“I have agreed with President Putin and President Zelensky to start preparing engagements with African Heads of State,” he continued. The mission will include, in addition to South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, Congo, Uganda and Egypt.

African countries were less unanimous than the major Western powers in denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Countries such as Senegal and South Africa thus abstained at the UN during the vote of a resolution condemning it. Mr Ramaphosa, who said he spoke over the weekend with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in “separate phone calls”, said he hoped for “sustained exchanges with both leaders” during the mission.

Refusal to condemn the invasion in Ukraine

The day before, Mr Ramaphosa had been outraged that Pretoria was under “extraordinary pressure” to choose sides. Close to the Kremlin since the days of the struggle against apartheid, South Africa has always refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, claiming to remain “neutral” and to favor dialogue.

This position has irritated the international scene. Especially since Pretoria hosted naval exercises with Russia and China in February, shortly before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, reigniting Western concerns.

The announcement of an African mission also comes in the context of recent tensions between Pretoria and Washington around the Russian question. The American ambassador to South Africa said last week that a Russian freighter had docked near Cape Town in December, to return to Russia loaded with arms and ammunition.

The South African government has said there is no record of state-sanctioned arms sales to Russia over the period in question. President Ramaphosa announced the opening of an investigation into the case. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was informed of the African peace mission project “and welcomed it,” said Cyril Ramaphosa.