July 29, 2023

Putin and African leaders meet: African leaders urge Putin to negotiate settlement with Ukraine and restore trade on the Black Sea

The meeting held as a working lunch was attended by Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the Republic of the Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Senegal Macky Sall, President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the South African Republic Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Zambia Stanley Kakubo.

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President of Russia Vladimir Putin (in English): Dear friends! Are you ready?

Let’s start the evening part of our programme. I am very glad to see you. As agreed, we will talk about issues and problems related to the conflict in Ukraine.

During our June meeting here in St Petersburg, we discussed in great detail the situation which caused the conflict and shared our opinions on possible settlement options. President of the South African Republic, Mr Ramaphosa, a co-author of the peace initiative, voiced specific proposals contained in it. We carefully analysed the thoughts and ideas expressed by our African friends. We treat this very seriously and with great attention.

Colleagues, I hope that you have a clear understanding of the nature and origins of the crisis. In any case we tried to make our view on that problem clear. We believe that the problem did not arise yesterday; it was provoked by some forces in the West which have been preparing for a hybrid war against our country for many years. They did everything to turn Ukraine into a tool to undermine the security foundations of the Russian Federation, to harm Russia’s positions in the world and to undermine our statehood. I am saying this with good reason. This is the first point.

The second thing I would like to draw your attention to: today, at the beginning of our discussion, the Chairperson of the African Union said something that caught my attention. I did not respond to it right away but I wrote it down. Colleague, you mentioned that “we are against coups d’état.” And I completely agree with this stance – we are against them, too. But the second problem that led to the current crisis is exactly the coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014. It was essentially an anti-constitutional violent armed state coup, which was actively supported by Western countries that ignored all norms of international law and admitted openly and publicly that they were backing this coup, unabashedly specifying the amount of funding they had spent on it.

I know that you are earnestly seeking to provide assistance in reaching a just and sustainable solution to the conflict. And, of course, we greatly appreciate your balanced approach, as well as the fact that you have not supported the anti-Russian rhetoric and anti-Russian campaign. If you had, we would not be having this conversation right now, obviously.

We are impressed by the stance of the countries that came out with the initiative saying that the UN Charter principles must be respected and observed in their entirety, with due account of the interconnections that exist between them. Indeed, there must be no double standards, no unilateral sanctions or attempts to ensure one’s own security at the expense of others.

We are being told that we are violating the UN Charter. I do not think so. Quite the opposite: I am confident that we have acted in full accordance with the UN Charter. Following the 2014 coup d’état, the Ukrainian authorities unleashed hostilities against part of their citizens, using aircraft, heavy equipment and tanks to target those who did not support the Western-backed coup in 2014. Therefore, it was the West that unleashed the war in Ukraine. That is exactly the way things happened, and there is no denying it.

For our part, we made every attempt to peacefully resolve this crisis by signing the so-called Minsk agreements, which the Ukrainian authorities derailed by completely disregarding them, with the West’s approval. Furthermore, they later stated they were not going to comply with these agreements.

We were forced to recognise the independence of certain territories; for eight years, we had not recognised the independence of these newly established republics and had sought to achieve a peaceful settlement. So, we recognised the independence of these newly formed states and signed treaties of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with them – all done within the UN Charter – and within these treaties, we responded to their appeal for help, in full accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. There were no violations of the UN Charter here.

But our Western partners forgot what they did in Iraq, destroying the country’s statehood and ultimately eliminating Saddam Hussein. They forgot the way they acted in Libya, without any resolution from the UN Security Council. They forgot they ruined the situation in Sudan. They forgot that they invaded Syria. They could not care less about the UN Charter. They think of international law only when they believe they can use these tools against someone – in this case, against Russia. But they will fail; this approach is too primitive. If they actually want someone to observe the UN Charter as well as other norms of international law, they should themselves take the effort to fulfil them.

This is not to say we do not want or do not seek the peaceful resolution of any dispute. As I said, we have thoroughly considered both your approach and your ideas for a peace settlement.

They actually reiterate provisions of the peace plan that the People’s Republic of China proposed in February to resolve the situation around Ukraine. However – and this is also well known – the Ukrainian authorities issued special regulations, with a decree adopted by the President of Ukraine that prohibits any negotiations. For our part, we have never refused to take part in negotiations; we have always stated publicly that we are prepared for further dialogue. 

As I said at our previous meeting in St Petersburg, a draft agreement had been basically coordinated. But after we withdrew our troops from the area near Kiev, which we were asked to do to create conditions for a final peace treaty, the Ukrainian authorities abandoned all previous agreements. So I believe that the ball is absolutely in their court. 

Obviously, I will not dwell on the details of what we agreed upon as this would probably be inappropriate. But let me remind you – not everyone knows this but we know it perfectly well – that Kiev gained its independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union under the Declaration of Independence, which clearly states that Ukraine is a neutral state – and for us, this has fundamental importance. The reasons the West started drawing Ukraine into NATO are not very clear to us.

We believe this is what poses a fundamental threat to our security, because the advancement of the hostile military alliance’s infrastructure towards our borders is unacceptable.

There are also other issues that must be resolved. Naturally, we can talk about them in more detail in the restricted part of our meeting.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Chairperson of the African Union, please go ahead.

Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani (retranslated): Thank you very much.

Indeed, we have already discussed many issues. Today, we would like to see how things are progressing, and with President Cyril Ramaphosa as initiator, I think he should take the floor. 

Vladimir Putin: Mr President, please go ahead.

President of the Republic of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa: Thank you very much, President Assoumani. And greetings once again to you, President Putin, and, indeed, to my other brothers who have joined us. We are delighted that we have been joined by President Museveni, President Sassou Nguesso and President Sisi, who could not join us when we last came here. 

So, our team is now enhanced and we are pleased that we could have this engagement with yourself and thank you very much for agreeing to meet with us. We also wish to thank you for giving us an outline of the issues as you have done, which you did when we met you a few weeks ago when we came to St Petersburg.

We have often said that, having come here from meeting President Zelensky, we are, in our view, the only group that is able to talk to both sides. You yourself attested to that. 

We are pleased that we can have access to you and have a follow-up discussion as you promised that we would have on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit. So, we are really delighted.

As you heard the various inputs by various leaders during the Russia-Africa summit plenary sessions, all of Africa would like to see peace prevailing, we are all in support of peace. And in many ways our coming here also testifies to that.

Of course, in addition, we, collectively as African countries, have a very collaborative relationship with Russia. We cooperate in a number of areas and this gives us the ability to talk to you about peace because as much as we are having challenges on the African continent, with Niger now being subjected to a coup, and a few other countries, as the African Union and indeed as African countries we stand on the side of peace. 

And even in this case with the conflict in Ukraine, we still advocate for peace, and, in a way, we feel that we have a right to call for peace, because the ongoing conflict, as you heard during the course of the day, also negatively affects us as African countries. Apart from the fact that we want to support the peace process all over the world, this conflict is now directly affecting us as well, as we told you last time, as far as food security is concerned. 

The prices of our fertilisers have gone up, the cost of living in many of our countries has gone up and we do believe that that is in the interest of humanity and the people, yes, of Russia and Ukraine that there should be peace and that this conflict should be settled in a peaceful manner.

We do understand from your explanation the origins of this conflict and where it started and how it started. We are, however, pleased to hear you say that you recognise the initiative that we as African countries – seven African countries – have taken. And you take this initiative by the seven countries very seriously, and you have given due consideration and regard to the proposals that we put forward.

You will recall that we said we would like engagement, that there should be engagement. In calling for engagement we say so from our own history as African countries. Many countries on the continent were involved in various conflicts and in the end, those conflicts, many of them, were resolved through peaceful means, through negotiations.

It is this that informs us to call for negotiations and dialogue. And, in that regard, we do believe that we have a right to call for peace because that is a principle that we firmly believe in.

We did inform you the moment that we met you that we as African countries stand firm on the respect for the United Nations Charter and principles, which we also have adopted as the African Union. We believe that those principles should be respected and we are pleased to hear you say exactly the same thing.

We are pleased to hear you also say that our ideas resonate with your ideas and they also coincide with the ideas that have been put forward by others and principally China. When we met with you, we said that our initiative should not ever be seen as replacing other initiatives. It should be seen as complimenting the efforts and the initiatives that others have embarked upon. Therefore, as we speak, we speak in support of various other proposals. 

President Putin, we are pleased tonight that you will be able to give us an indication of your response to a number of proposals that were put forward, in the closed session, that is. And what pleases us is that you yourself have said that you have been giving serious consideration to the proposals that have been put forward by the seven African countries.

So, I draw a lot of confidence from what you have said and that in the closed session you will be able to inform us. Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that a number of us have taken various positions with regard to this conflict. But the main and key positions that all of us have taken is that this conflict should be resolved through negotiations, through dialogue, and we agree with you that that is the best way to go.

In this regard, as African countries, we want to play a constructive role, we want to see how best we can assist in ensuring that there is dialogue and that this conflict should be brought to an end. 

As we said right from the onset and as we listened to you today, you responded to some of the issues that were in our proposals and one of those was about the grain. We proposed that we would like the Black Sea Initiative to be implemented and that the Black Sea should be open and, in that regard, we were saying – so that we are understood – we were saying we would like the Black Sea to be open to the world market. 

We are not here to plead for donations for the African continent. We do recognise that out of generosity, out of the heart of the Russian Federation, you have decided to donate grain to a number of countries on the continent that are facing challenges. 

We respect that and we accept that, but our main input here is not so much focused on the issue of giving and donating grain to the African continent, but we accept what you have decided in that regard.

So, we are here, President Putin, to listen to you, to hear what your response would be to some of the proposals and, as we said, we are prepared to engage further. Today we are very pleased that there are six of us here, although President Hichilema could not travel, but at the same time he is also well represented by our presence here.

So, thank you very much and I am sure that we will be able to hear your response to a number of those issues in the closed session. Thank you very much.

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