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Security row overshadows diplomatic outreach

The ill-fated peace mission to Kyiv and Moscow could set the tone for the Africa summit in St Petersburg in July

The African peace mission to Ukraine and Russia did not recover from a diplomatic row with Poland last Friday (16 June) after a delegation of guards and the media was stopped in Warsaw over a dispute about the weapons permits for President Cyril Ramaphosa's entourage.

The trip was supposed to be the first major forum to discuss the peace initiative put forward by Uganda, South Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Senegal, Zambia and Egypt, Instead, it was overshadowed by a row with the Polish government – tinged with accusations of racism – after Warsaw said that some of South Africa's 120-strong delegation did not have the correct permits to carry guns on Polish soil.

The mission could set the tone for a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg due in July and a Ukraine-hosted gathering at an as yet unnamed date.

Meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin offered little more than propaganda opportunities. Indeed, there was no sign of either Moscow or Kyiv conceding any ground or that there was any substantive discussion of the African peace plan.

'This conflict is affecting Africa negatively,' Ramaphosa said at a news conference alongside Zelensky, pointing to the continent's reliance on wheat, grain and agricultural inputs, primarily from Ukraine.

While Zelensky's government is investing heavily in expanding its diplomatic outreach to African states, and believes that its call for solidarity by describing Russia as a colonial oppressor and promise to guarantee food security is strong, trust is still in short supply (AC Vol 64 No 12, Grain-fed diplomacy).

During the press conference, Comoros President Azali Assoumani mooted the idea of a 'road map' to peace, prompting Zelensky to request more detail and state that he didn't want 'any surprises' when the African leaders met with Vladimir Putin.

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