- By Antoinette Radford
- BBC News
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the war in Ukraine must end.
Mr Ramaphosa’s comments came when he met Mr Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday as part of a peace mission with six other African nations.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the delegation on Friday that he would not negotiate with Russia over its occupation of Ukrainian land.
Mr Putin launched the invasion last year and blamed Ukraine for refusing to negotiate.
At a meeting in St Petersburg, Mr Ramaphosa called on both sides to return their prisoners of war and to return home children abducted by Russia.
As the African delegation demanded the children be returned to their families, Mr Putin interrupted their speech to say Russia would protect them.
“Children are sacred. We took them out of the conflict zone and saved their lives and health,” he said. UN says it has evidence of illegal transfer of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia
Mr Ramaphosa warned Mr Putin of the implications of the war on Africa and said it must be resolved through diplomacy.
“War cannot go on forever, all wars must be resolved and come to an end at some point,” he said. “We’re here to make a very clear message that we want this war to end.”
The war has severely restricted exports of grain from Ukraine and fertilizer from Russia, which has particularly affected African countries and exacerbated global food insecurity.
But Mr Putin blamed the West for the grain crisis – not the war in Ukraine – and said only 3% of grain exports allowed under a UN-brokered deal to ensure safe passage through the Black Sea went to the world’s poorest countries. .
He also praised what he described as Africa’s balanced stance in the war.
The African group, which includes representatives from South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia and Uganda, is designed specifically for breadth and balance, with members from different parts of Africa having different views on the conflict.
South Africa and Uganda are seen as leaning towards Russia, while Zambia and Comoros are closer to the West. Egypt, Senegal and Congo-Brazzaville are mostly neutral.
African countries primarily saw conflict between Russia and the West.
The delegation also met Ukrainian leaders on Friday, where Mr Ramaphosa warned that the war in Europe was affecting 1.2 to 1.3 billion people in Africa.
After the leaders landed, air raid sirens rang out across Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, which Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said showed Mr Putin wanted “more war”.
During their meeting, Mr Zelensky told the delegation that “an important result of your work” would be to recommend the release of political prisoners held by Russia.
The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine as Ukraine has launched its counter-offensive near the Baghmut region.
Russia says the counterattack failed.