MOSCOW — A delegation of African leaders urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin peace talks with Ukraine during a meeting with the Russian leader in St. Petersburg.
“We would like to encourage you to start negotiations with Ukraine,” Azali Assoumani, the president of Comoros and the current chairman of the African Union, told Putin on Saturday, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “We are convinced that the time has come for both sides to start negotiations and end this war.”
Putin, who himself ordered the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, once again blamed Ukraine for the fact that there are currently no peace negotiations.
The delegation, which also includes representatives from Egypt, Senegal, Zambia, the Republic of Congo and Uganda, said it has drawn up a 10-point plan as part of its peace initiative.
The hopes that the mediation mission will be successful after almost 16 months of war are extremely slim.
But Russia is particularly interested in bolstering relations with African countries, given its economic and diplomatic isolation from Western powers.
At the end of May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Kenya, Mozambique, Burundi and South Africa. A summit of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in August in South Africa is also being eagerly awaited.
The African delegation met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday.
Zelenskyy spurned the suggestion he should negotiate with Moscow, saying there would be no talks as long as Russian soldiers are still on Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
During the visit, the Russian army once again fired missiles at Kyiv.
Many African countries are hurting from the prolonged conflict.
Countries in East Africa in particular depend on grain and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine. New price increases are feared as a result of fewer grain exports.
Also on Saturday, Russia claimed its air defenses had thwarted an attempted drone attack on the Druzhba oil pipeline in the border region with Ukraine.
Three drones flying toward a pumping station near the town of Novozybkov were shot down on Friday night, the governor of Bryansk, Alexander Bogomaz, said on Telegram. The claim could not be independently verified.
Bogomaz’s claim that the Ukrainian army was behind the attacks could not be verified either. Kyiv did not comment on the accusation.
In eastern Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu demanded more tanks from the country’s defense industry for the war against Ukraine during a visit on Saturday to a manufacturing plant in the Siberian city of Omsk.
At the same time, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Oleksii Makeiev, called for more Western support to defend against Russian forces, saying air defense systems, armored vehicles and tanks are needed quickly.
Shoigu insisted on “strict adherence to the timetable for the implementation of the state defense order,” the ministry announced.
Shoigu’s office said, “he set the task of further expanding production capacities for tanks and heavy flame-throwing systems.”
Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly 16 months ago and has already suffered multiple military setbacks. International observers have repeatedly pointed to the Russians’ equipment problems.
Most recently, even Putin admitted that the Russian army currently lacks modern weapons – at the same time. However, he claimed that the arms industry would “undoubtedly” remedy this problem.
But British military intelligence said the Russian military has recently gained a temporary advantage in the airspace over southern Ukraine.
“In the constant contest between aviation measures and counter-measures, it is likely that Russia has gained a temporary advantage in southern Ukraine, especially with attack helicopters employing longer-range missiles against ground targets,” the British Ministry of Defense, or MoD, in London said on Saturday in its daily intelligence report on the war in Ukraine.
“Since the start of Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in southern Ukraine, Russia has re-enforced its attack helicopter force in the region,” the statement said.
Pictures showed that more than 20 additional helicopters had been stationed at Berdyansk airport, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) behind the front line, the statement added.