Starved for Peace
An African delegation meets with Putin and Zelensky in pursuit of peace.
At The American Conservative’s 10th annual Foreign Policy Conference on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, I asked Rep. Eli Crane whether the United States should be sending any kind of aid to Ukraine, and if so, what kind. The Congressman from Arizona replied, “Yeah,” shocking the restraint-oriented crowd. He continued: “The aid we should be sending to Ukraine is envoys to usher in peace talks.”
It’s the correct approach—tautologically, one cannot hope to end war without establishing a peace. The Biden administration hasn’t taken the Congressman’s sound advice. Like Ukraine itself and the other Western governments funding the war effort, the White House still seems to believe that peace can only be achieved through an outright Ukrainian victory and totalizing Russian humiliation. The dearth of our culture’s historical knowledge means all conflicts are cast in terms from World War II: Putin is Hitler, Zelensky is Churchill. But what is unfolding in Ukraine—entangling alliances in central Europe and a desire to humiliate the perceived aggressor—looks more like that war’s prequel.
Other and rather unexpected governments, however, seem to understand the axiom of war and peace. Last week, leaders of seven African nations met with Zelensky in Ukraine and then Putin in Russia. The delegation, led by South Africa and its president, Cyril Ramaphosa, also included representation from Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Uganda, and Zambia, sought to kickstart peace talks.
The African delegation proposed a ten-point plan for peace. The first three points sought to get Putin and Zelensky to commit to ending the war and all other hostilities through diplomatic means. The fourth step claimed that both sides would respect the sovereignty of states and peoples as laid out in the Charter of the United Nations. The fifth outlined security and economic assurances.
The sixth was of special interest to Africa because it sought to create assurances regarding the exporting of grain and fertilizers. The war has caused a shortage of grain imported from Ukraine and fertilizers imported from Russia on the African continent. The rise in food prices attributable to the war has been especially acute in Africa. The African Development Bank, for example, claims that the war has lead to a shortfall of thirty million metric tons of grain on the continent.
The seventh and eighth were devoted to humanitarian assistance and the exchange of prisoners and captives of the war. The ninth claimed that a plan for postwar reconstruction should go forward, and the tenth sought to get Zelensky to commit to working more closely with African nations.
All these items were vague, but intentionally so—these nations do not have the political capital to bring about peace without a major world power heading the effort. Both leaders received the ten-point plan with displays of gratitude, but suggested that even these vague terms were not workable.
“This conflict is affecting Africa negatively,” Ramaphosa said in a joint press conference with Zelensky last Friday. “I do believe that Ukrainians feel that they must fight and not give up,” Ramaphosa said. “The road to peace is very hard.” Nevertheless, the South African president added that “there is a need to bring this conflict to an end sooner rather than later.”
When the press conference turned to discussions of the peace plan, Zelensky got testy with some of the African leaders, saying he did not want “any surprises” from their “conversations with the terrorists” that would follow. Zelensky’s skepticism isn’t unwarranted. South Africa, for example, has good diplomatic relations with Russia dating back to the then-Soviet Union’s support of the African National Congress (ANC). Zelensky suggested that he was open to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but has repeatedly stated that peace talks could only begin after a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
As for the Russians, Putin told the delegation that the conflict started long before Russia sent its forces across the border in February 2022 and that any peace brokered now must account for “new realities.” These new realities likely include a recognition of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and possibly the other territorial gains Russia has made in the war thus far, which constitutes just less than 20 percent of Ukraine's territory. Other high-ranking members of the Russian government echoed Putin’s message. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia agrees with the "main approaches" of the deal, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state media that the African delegation’s plan was “difficult to realize.”
Ramaphosa laid out the ten-point plan to Putin after Azali Assoumani, the president of Comoros and current chairman of the African Union, told the Russian president:
We’ve come here to listen to you, and, through you, the Russian people, and encourage you to enter negotiations with Ukraine in order to put an end to the difficult ordeal. We gave ourselves this mission because, as Africans, unfortunately, we have had to manage numerous conflicts, and it’s through dialogue and negotiations that we have succeeded at resolving them.
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Putin affirmed the African leaders that Russia is “open to constructive dialogue with anyone who wants to establish peace on the principles of fairness and acknowledgement of the legitimate interests of the parties.”
Ramaphosa heralded the trip as “historic.” That seems hyperbolic, but the African delegation achieved about all it could. It got both Ukraine and Russia on record again about pursuing peace. Of course, both sides have indicated that their pursuit of peace is conditional on certain items. But which scenario seems more realistic: peace negotiations that take into account what has transpired up until this point in the war or one that wishes to pretend the last sixteen months never happened?
The African delegation’s efforts, as well as the other proposals floated to get the Ukrainians and Russians to the table, show that the war will last until either the West loses its appetite for funding the Ukrainians or Russian losses become intolerable. For a country that lost seventeen million people in the conflict that Ukraine's supporters love to cite, one might reasonably suggest the former will come before the latter.