Evaluating the African Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia: What did it Achieve?
Samir Bhattacharya, Senior Research Associate, VIF

Almost a year and a half into the conflict, African leaders joined the crowded group of peacemakers attempting to mediate the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.[1] On June 16 and 17, a high-level African delegation of seven people, including four heads of state, visited Russia and Ukraine consecutively.[2] They met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in their respective countries. Before now, China, Indonesia, and the Vatican have proposed some peace plans for the conflict. [3]

African Peace Mission

There were four Heads of State in the delegation. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa led the delegation.[4] In addition, three other Presidents, Comorian President Azali Assoumani, Senegalese President Macky Sall, and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and the prime minister of Egypt, were part of the delegation. The delegation also included Ugandan and Congo-Brazzavillean representatives. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, and Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo had all been invited but withdrew at the last minute. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda cancelled after discovering he had COVID, while Denis SassouNguesso of Congo chose not to go because he didn't want to be travelling at the time when Ukraine formally announced its plan fora counteroffensive.[5]

During their meeting in St. Petersburg, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a ten-point peace plan and urged him to start a dialogue to find a peaceful solution. The delegation also argued for the continuation Black Grain Initiative. Signed in Istanbul on July 22 2022, the extension of the deal is crucial for grain exports and the shipment of Russian fertilisers against the backdrop of rising food insecurity across Africa.[6] The ten-point peace plan addressed a wide range of issues, including the right to export food and fertiliser, respect for the UN charter, and the return of Ukrainian children. However, they seemed more of aspirations and less a peace plan.

Source: Institute for Security Studies[7]

It should be noted that earlier in June, South African President Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Modi spoke on the phone to discuss the African leaders' peace initiative, and PM Modi offered his thoughts on the subject.[8] South Africa also made similar calls to other BRICS leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to solicit their support and keep them informed.[9]

African Neutrality in Question

These seven members, who came from different corners of Africa, were envisioned to offer a cross-section of African perspectives on the conflict and help the two sides come to an understanding. Many observers, however, asserted that three of the seven nations, South Africa, Senegal, and Ugandawere biased toward Russia.[10] All three of them earlier abstained during the UNGA resolution that condemned Russia. The more Western-leaning nations of Egypt, Zambia, and the Comoros, on the other hand, voted against Russia.[11] Congo-Brazzaville abstained from the resolution's vote and has largely remained neutral.[12]

South Africa has recently come under fire from the West for allegedly giving Russia tacit support. Russia is part of BRICS, of which South Africa is also a member. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to participate in BRICS-related events in South Africa in August. In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, despite the arrest warrant, the South African government refused to enforce that writ during Putin's expected visit to Cape Town. Instead, South Africa decided to provide diplomatic immunity to all the participants. It is even ready to leave the ICC by altering the law.[13] It is being interpreted as Pretoria tilting towards Moscow's side.[14]

Furthermore, despite declaring its neutrality in the conflict in Ukraine, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, accused South Africa of providing weapons to Russia in May 2023.[15] The ambassador claims that at the beginning of December 2022, a Russian ship docked in Cape Town carrying weapons and ammunition. Even though President Cyril Ramaphosa's office vehemently denied any involvement, the presence of Lady R, a US-sanctioned Russian vessel, in a South African port was puzzling and continues to raise suspicions.[16]

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) allows the countries of sub-Saharan Africa duty-free access to the US market, and South Africa is one of its biggest beneficiaries. Through AGOA, South Africa exported $3 billion worth of goods to the US last year. South Africa's exports to the US under AGOA reached nearly $1 billion in the first three months of this year, making it the second most significant beneficiary of the programme after Nigeria.[17] In fact, after China, the United States is South Africa's second-largest trading partner. The upcoming AGOA meeting is anticipated to be held in South Africa in November.[18] Many Americans have grown frustrated by South Africa's skewed neutrality. On June 9, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers demanded that the Biden administration punish South Africa by moving a crucial trade meeting to another nation due to South Africa's alleged support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.[19]

Concerns about South Africa's participation in military drills with China and Russia have also been voiced by Washington. The 10-day naval exercises dubbed Mosi—which, in Tswana, means "smoke"—were criticised for endorsing the Russian action because they took place during the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine.[20] In the past, South Africa also declined to impose sanctions on Russia alongside the USA and Europe. Not to mention, the South African government sparked a political controversy by allowing a superyacht named 'the Nord'connected to the blacklisted Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov to dock in Cape Town.[21]

Other Peace Proposals

On February 24, 2023, the first anniversary of the start of the war, China released its formal 12-point peace proposal.[22] Zelensky expressed cautious optimism about China's involvement in mediation.[23] In contrast, Putin described the Chinese peace plan as a potential basis for ending the war only if the West agreed.[24] Although the Chinese peace plan did not receive much support from Western leaders, it still has a slim chance. In any case, so far, none of the leaders have rejected it.

Furthermore, the recent trips to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and to Germany and France by a high-level Chinese delegation led by Prime Minister Li Qiang give rise to optimism for future Western cooperation with China in pursuing a successful peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.[25]

Prabowo Subianto, the Indonesian defence minister, also suggested creating a demilitarised zone and holding a UN vote in what he called "disputed territory" at the Shangri-La Dialogue annual defence conference in Singapore.[26] It was heavily criticised as a "Russian plan" by Ukraine and its allies in the West.[27]

So far, the only peace plan that holds some chance of bringing peace is the one put forth by Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy. He presented a five-point plan to the UN General Assembly in September 2022, which later evolved into the current ten-point plan.[28] He presented a 10-point peace plan at the G20 summit in Bali, and it calls for, among other things, Russia to pull out all of its troops from Ukraine.[29]

Evaluating the African Peace Mission

None of these peace initiatives has succeeded in bringing the two sides to a negotiation table. This is a result of their fundamentally different demands for peace. Russia doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO and recognise Russian sovereignty over the territories it has annexed. On the other hand, Ukraine intends to restore its borders to how they were in 1991.[30] This would entail Russia leaving the Crimean Peninsula and all other lands it has annexed from Ukraine in the previous ten years. This is something Moscow is deeply opposed to arguing instead that for negotiations to take place, Ukraine would have to accept its country's "new territorial reality", in other words, its control of almost a fifth of Ukraine's sovereign territory.[31] Currently, there is little chance of the Russian forces withdrawing from Ukraine as demanded by Kyiv. Thus, the stalemate remains.

The war's economic repercussions, particularly the continent's worsening energy and food crises, were the primary driver of the African peace mission. Evaluating the peace mission, although both Russia and Ukraine agreed to continue engagement, both reiterated before and after the peace mission that they would not come to the negotiating table without certain basic preconditions. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly dismissed large chunks of the plan as unworkable.[32] Ukraine also appeared lukewarm. Moreover, the timing of the visit also remains puzzling. The visit took place during the much-anticipated counteroffensive from Ukraine.[33] It was also the day when the capital city of Kyiv witnessed several explosions and missile attacks from Russia.[34]

Nevertheless, the effort of the delegation to bring the two sides of the conflict together garnered some appreciation. President Putin praised the delegation's "balanced" approach and said he was open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want to implement peace, respecting the principles of justice and respect for the parties' legitimate interests.[35] As a matter of fact, this was the first time that Africa was united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of the continent, and a group of African heads of state and government travelled together to find a path to peace in this conflict.

The African peace plan appears to be a list of wishful thinking and particularly thin on solutions. Unfortunately, there isn't any taker of this offbeat proposal. For those who had high hopes for Africa's ability to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, this mission will undoubtedly be disappointing. However, despite peace being elusive, this peace mission represents a significant step for Africa towards taking centre stage in global politics. In the past, Africa has shied away from the risks and obligations associated with foreign policy issues outside the continent. Sadly, there was hardly any shared ground even to start preparing for negotiations, much less for the kinds of confidence-boosting measures that had been promoted in the lead-up to the proposed peace plan. In any case, the African reaction to Ukraine crisis vis-à-vis the West's appeal to condemn Russia, followed by this peace mission, reflects the emergence of African realpolitik.


[1]“African leaders on peace mission arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital”. Africa News. June 19, 2023. https://www.africanews.com/2023/06/16/african-leaders-on-peace-mission-arrive-kyiv-ukraines-capital//

[2]David Pilling “African leaders begin peace mission to Ukraine and Russia”. Financial Times.June 16, 2023.https://www.ft.com/content/f7e92707-069d-4d40-8937-2f96290e7516

[3]Stefan Wolff. “Ukraine war: failed African peace mission underscores need for more powerful political and military pressure on Putin”. The Conversation. June 22, 2023, https://theconversation.com/ukraine-war-failed-african-peace-mission-underscores-need-for-more-powerful-political-and-military-pressure-on-putin-208162

[4]Ray Mwareya. “Russia-Ukraine war: South Africa-led peace mission nipped in the bud?”.The Africa Report. June 18, 2023. https://www.theafricareport.com/312894/russia-ukraine-war-south-africa-led-peace-mission-nipped-in-the-bud/

[5]NosmotGbadamosi, “A Failed African Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia”. Foreign Policy. June 21, 2023. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/06/21/a-failed-african-peace-mission-to-ukraine-and-russia/

[6]UNCTAD.“Continuation of the Black Sea Initiative”. May 17, 2023. https://unctad.org/news/continuation-black-sea-initiative

[7]Priyal Singh and Denys Reva “African peace mission: one step forward, one step back?”. Institute for Security Studies. June 23, 2023. https://issafrica.org/amp/iss-today/african-peace-mission-one-step-forward-one-step-back

[8]Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury. “S African President briefs Modi on African leaders peace initiative on Ukraine”. The Economic Times. June 11, 2023.https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/s-african-president-briefs-modi-on-african-leaders-peace-initiative-on-ukraine/articleshow/100904554.cms

[9]“Ramaphosa briefs Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on African peace mission to Ukraine, Russia”. News 24. June 10, 2023. https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/ramaphosa-briefs-chinese-counterpart-xi-jinping-on-african-peace-mission-to-ukraine-russia-20230610

[10]“Russian President Putin meets African leaders to discuss Ukraine peace plan”. The Hindu. June 18, 2023. https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/putin-meets-with-african-leaders-in-russia-to-discuss-ukraine-peace-plan-but-no-visible-progress/article66981163.ecev

[11]Jamey Keaten “Zelenskyy urges African leaders to press Putin on release of political prisoners”. June 16, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-peace-plan-africa-a424799e733280657a352b787b90c07e

[12]VitaliіKravchenko “The African “peace” mission in Ukraine and russia failed. Why did this delegation come anyway?”.Mind. June 19, 2023. https://mind.ua/en/publications/20258829-the-african-peace-mission-in-ukraine-and-russia-failed-why-did-this-delegation-come-anyway

[13]Farouk Chothia and Robert Greenall. “South Africa plans law change over Putin ICC arrest warrant”. BBC. May 30, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-65759630

[14]“Africa’s Russia, Ukraine peace mission criticised in South Africa”. Al Jazeera. June 22, 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/6/22/ego-trip-african-peace-mission-criticised-in-south-africa

[15]“South Africa summons US ambassador over his claims it is arming Russia”. The Guardian. May 12, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/may/12/south-africa-summons-us-ambassador-over-claims-it-armed-russia

[16]“South Africa Under More Scrutiny Over Russian Ship”. Voice of America. May 24, 2023. https://www.voanews.com/a/south-africa-under-more-scrutiny-over-russian-ship/7107776.html

[17]“US lawmakers call for S.Africa to lose summit over Russia ties”. The Print. June 9. https://theprint.in/world/us-lawmakers-call-for-s-africa-to-lose-summit-over-russia-ties/1625215/

[18]S'thembileCele “South Africa Says It Has US Support to Host AGOA Forum This Year”. Bloomberg. June 13 2023. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-06-13/south-africa-says-it-has-us-support-to-host-agoa-forum-this-year#xj4y7vzkg

[19]“US lawmaker group wants S Africa punished over Russia ties”. Al Jazeera. June 13, 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/6/13/us-lawmakers-want-s-africa-to-lose-trade-summit-over-russia-ties

[20]“Why is South Africa's navy joining exercises with Russia and China?”.BBC. February 17, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-64380572

[21]“South Africa to let Russian billionaire’s superyacht dock”. AP News. October 26, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/europe-africa-cape-town-south-cyril-ramaphosa-dbdc07f36cd3e817768439b06b29eaad

[22]Alena Zhabina “China's plan for peace in Ukraine thin on solutions”. February 24, 2023. https://www.dw.com/en/chinas-plan-for-peace-in-ukraine-thin-on-solutions/a-64807637

[23]“Ukraine sees some merit in Chinese peace plan”. Reuters. February 25, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/china-wants-prevent-ukraine-crisis-getting-out-control-2023-02-24/

[24]“Putin: China plan could end war, but Ukraine and West not ready for peace”. BBC. March 22. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-65030929

[25]“Blinken Cools Heels in Beijing as Chinese PM Treads EU Red Carpet”.Asia Sentinel. June 22, 2023. https://www.asiasentinel.com/p/anthony-blinken-cools-heels-beijing

[26]Kanupriya Kapoor “Indonesia proposes demilitarised zone, UN referendum for Ukraine peace plan”. Reuters. June 3, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/indonesia-proposes-demilitarised-zone-un-referendum-ukraine-peace-plan-2023-06-03/

[27]Mercedes Ruehl and Kathrin Hille. “Indonesia floats Ukraine peace plan, triggering sharp western criticism”. Financial Times. June 3, 2023. https://www.ft.com/content/bf2c9186-344a-4f3a-a66a-c61244199d82

[28]John Hudson “Ukraine President Zelensky presents plan to end war with Russia”. The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/09/21/united-nations-zelensky/

[29]“What is Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan?”. Al Jazeera. December 28, 2022.https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/28/what-is-zelenskyys-10-point-peace-plan

[30]Blaise Malley. “Diplomacy Watch: China seeks to portray itself as peacemaker in Ukraine”. Responsible Statecraft. April 28, 2023. https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2023/04/28/diplomacy-watch-china-seeks-to-portray-itself-as-peacemaker-in-ukraine/

[31]“Kremlin: Russia open to Ukraine talks, but won't give up annexed regions”. Reuters. February 28, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kremlin-russia-open-ukraine-talks-wont-give-up-annexed-regions-2023-02-28/

[32]“Russia says it will stay in touch with African peace mission, some ideas workable”. Reuters. June 19, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-stay-touch-with-african-peace-mission-some-ideas-workable-kremlin-2023-06-19/

[33]“Ukraine updates: Kyiv claims first counteroffensive gains”. DW. June 12, 2023. https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-updates-kyiv-claims-first-counteroffensive-gains/a-65886963

[34]Sarah Dean, “African leaders greeted with explosions over Kyiv on peace mission to Ukraine”. CNN . June 16, 2023. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/16/africa/african-leaders-peace-mission-ukraine-intl/index.html

[35]Shobhit Gupta. “‘Ukraine war has to end’: South Africa's Ramaphosa to Vladimir Putin. His reply”.Hindustan Times. June 17, 2023. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/russiaukraine-war-war-has-to-end-south-africas-ramaphosa-to-vladimir-putin-his-reply-101687019128457.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2023-05-16-sa-to-join-african-peace-talks-mission-to-ukraine-russia/

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
5 + 8 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us