Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens during a press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in the garden at Chequers, in Aylesbury, England, on May 15, 2023. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday May 16, 2023 that his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of African heads of state to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine. (Carl Court/Pool via AP, File)
By Gerald Imray in Cape Town
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said Tuesday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.
“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said.
The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Ramaphosa, he said in a statement. Putin and Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to “commence the preparations,” the South African leader said.
Four of those six African countries — South Africa, Republic of Congo, Senegal and Uganda — abstained from a U.N. vote last year on condemning Russia’s invasion. Zambia and Egypt voted in favor of the motion.
Ramaphosa did not give a time frame or outline any parameters for the possible peace talks. Zelenskyy has said he would not consider a peace deal to end the 15-month war until Russian forces withdraw completely from Ukrainian territory.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also was briefed on the African delegation’s planned meetings and “welcomed the initiative,” Ramaphosa said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed Monday that Ramaphosa spoke to Gutteres Monday afternoon during his visit to Jamaica.
“As we’ve said before, we are in favor of any initiative that could lead us to a peace in line with the (U.N.) Charter, in line with international law and in line with General Assembly resolutions,” Dujarric said.
The announcement of the African-led peace effort came as Russia launched a heavy air attack on Kyiv.
There was no immediate reaction Tuesday from either the Kremlin or Kyiv. A readout from a phone conversation Putin and Ramaphosa had Friday said the Russian leader supported “Cyril Ramaphosa’s idea about a group of African leaders participating in the discussion of the prospects of resolving the Ukrainian conflict.”
It wasn’t clear if that was the phone call Ramaphosa was referring to when he said he spoke with Putin over the weekend.
South Africa’s leading position in the African delegation is bound to draw scrutiny. Ramaphosa’s announcement came days after the U.S. ambassador accused South Africa of siding with Russia in the war in Ukraine and even providing weapons to help Moscow.
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety alleged last week that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship at a South African naval base in December and taken to Russia. The South African government has denied it sent any weapons to Russia.
Ramaphosa has said the matter is under investigation.
South Africa has claimed its position on the war is neutral. The country has strong historical ties with Russia due to the former Soviet Union’s support of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party when it was a liberation movement fighting to end the racist apartheid regime.
South Africa also hosted Russian and Chinese warships for joint naval exercises off its coast in February and which coincided with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. South Africa’s top army general traveled to Moscow and met with the commander of the Russian ground forces on Monday.
South Africa maintains it also retains a strong relationship with the United States and other Western supporters of Ukraine. Ramaphosa met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House late last year.
Zambia also has historical ties with Russia. Uganda is a U.S. ally on regional security in East Africa, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has spoken of his country’s friendship with Russia and its neutral position in the war in Ukraine.
Sipho Mantula, an analyst at South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs, said the neutrality of some of those African countries would help any talks.
“You don’t need people who will take sides and become proxy mediators,” Mantula said.
Russia and Ukraine are far apart in terms of an agreement to end the war.
The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, which most nations have denounced as illegal. Ukraine has rejected the demands and ruled out any talks with Russia until its troops pull back from all occupied territories.
Ukraine is determined to recover all Russian-occupied areas.
Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan also includes a tribunal to prosecute crimes of aggression, which would enable Russia to be held accountable for its invasion. Zelenskyy had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he sought support for Ukraine’s peace plan from the pontiff.
China has been the only other country so far offering to mediate possible peace talks, an offer clouded by its show of political support for Moscow.
Beijing released a proposed peace plan in February, and a Chinese envoy is preparing to visit Russia and Ukraine.
But there appeared to be little chance of an imminent breakthrough to end the war since Ukraine and its Western allies largely dismissed the Beijing’s proposal.
AP correspondent Hanna Arhirova contributed to this story from Kyiv, Ukraine. AP writers Dasha Litvinova in Talinn, Estonia, Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg also contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Poland is done sending arms to Ukraine, Polish leader says as trade dispute escalates
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attend a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. Poland’s prime minister said on late Wednesday his country is no longer sending arms to Ukraine, a comment that appeared aimed at pressuring Kyiv but put Poland’s status as a major source of military equipment in doubt as a trade dispute between the neighboring states escalates. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk, File)
By Vanessa Gera in Warsaw
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s prime minister said his country is no longer sending arms to Ukraine as a trade dispute between the neighboring states escalates and his populist party faces pressure from the far right in the upcoming national election.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a television interview late Wednesday that Poland is “no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons” in a military modernization plan spurred by fears of Russian aggression in the region. He did not elaborate or explain how the two actions were mutually exclusive.
A government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, clarified Thursday that the country was now only providing supplies of ammunition and armaments that had previously been agreed to, noting that “a series of absolutely unacceptable statements and diplomatic gestures appeared on the Ukrainian side.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he believes that “Poland will continue to be a supporter of Ukraine.”
“When I read the headlines this morning, I was of course concerned and had questions, but I’ve subsequently seen the Polish government spokesman come out to clarify that in fact Poland’s provision of equipment, including things like Polish-manufactured Howitzers, is continuing and that Poland continues to stand behind Ukraine,” Sullivan said when asked about the matter at a news briefing.
Poland has supplied Ukraine with a wide range of weaponry, including Leopard 2 tanks and Soviet-era MiG fighter jets. Poles are still largely in favor of supporting Ukraine, believing their nation would be vulnerable if Russia were to prevail just across the border. But there is also a growing weariness in society with the large numbers of refugees.
Ahead of the national election on Oct. 15, the far-right Confederation party has said that Poland is not getting the gratitude it deserves for arming Ukraine and accepting its refugees. And emotions have been running high since Poland, Hungary and Slovakia announced a new ban on Ukrainian grain imports last week, saying they wanted to protect their farmers.
The Polish-Ukrainian spat comes as Ukraine forces are making slow progress breaking through Russian battle lines in a counteroffensive that has not moved as quickly or as well as initially hoped and Poland’s move could have wider fallout as another winter of fighting approaches. Kyiv’s leaders are lobbying for a new round of advanced weapons, including longer range missiles.
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last weekend that there is a continued need for more weapons and equipment in Ukraine and that allies and partners are looking for ways to address that.
But some U.S. voters are beginning to tire of helping Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Washington this week as Republican leaders in Congress diverge on how to send more military and humanitarian aid to the country.
A leading security and defense expert, Michal Baranowski, said that Poland gave most of what it could give earlier in the war, and with no plans for shipments of major equipment soon, he doesn’t see a threat to Ukraine’s capabilities in the near term. Still, he considers Morawiecki’s comments troubling for Ukraine as its seeks to maintain Western support in the war unleashed by Russia.
“The message is very bad, both for Poland’s reputation but also because Poland has been one of the chief advocates of military aid to Ukraine. Saying Poland will not be sending more weapons means that Poland can no longer play this role,” said Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund think tank.
He said Poland’s attempt to show toughness toward Kyiv should be understood in the context of the election campaign. In response to Morawiecki saying Poland would now focus on modernizing its own forces, Baranowski noted that Poland is capable of both modernizing its military and continuing to help Ukraine.
Donald Tusk, a top opposition leader, accused Morawiecki and other ruling authorities of a “moral and geopolitical scandal of stabbing Ukraine in the back politically when they decide to fight on the Ukrainian front, just because it will be profitable for their campaign.”
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia said the new ban on Ukrainian grain imports was put in place to protect their farmers from a glut of Ukrainian grain in their markets, which lowers prices and hurts their livelihood. Kyiv responded with a complaint at the World Trade Organization against the three countries that sparked even more angry reactions from Poland.
Polish and Ukrainian agriculture ministers said Thursday they were working to resolve the situation in a way that takes the interests of both countries into account. Ukraine meanwhile was lifting its complaint against Slovakia as the two sides sought a resolution, Slovak authorities said.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Zelenskyy suggested that the countries opposing Ukraine on grain were in fact working on Russia’s behalf. Poland urgently summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to complain Wednesday.
Morawiecki said in interview on private broadcaster Polsat that a NATO and U.S. hub in the Polish city of Rzeszow used for transporting weapons into Ukraine would not be affected. “We are not going to risk the security of Ukraine,” he said.
The German Foreign Ministry said: “Ukraine continues to need our full support. It is important that we in Europe act decisively and in solidarity in this regard. Germany will support Ukraine humanitarianly, politically, economically and with weapons for as long as it needs us.”
Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim in Washington, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.
UN envoy for Sudan resigns, warning that the conflict could be turning into ‘full-scale civil war’
By Edith M. Lederer in Tanzania
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Sudan who was declared unwelcome by the country’s military rulers announced his resignation Wednesday in a final speech to the U.N. Security Council, warning that the conflict between Sudan’s two military leaders “could be morphing into a full-scale civil war.”
Volker Perthes, who had continued to work outside Sudan, said the fighting shows no sign of abating, with neither side appearing close to “a decisive military victory.” He also said the violence in Sudan’s western Darfur region “has worsened dramatically,” with the warring parties blatantly disregarding human rights and civilians being targeted based on their ethnicity.
Sudan has been rocked by violence since mid-April, when tensions between the country’s military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, burst into open fighting.
Perthes said at least 5,000 people have been killed since then and over 12,000 wounded, calling these conservative numbers and saying the actual number “is likely much higher.”
The Sudanese people are also facing “a crisis of epic and tragic proportions, with more than 20 million people — almost half the population — experiencing acute levels of hunger and food insecurity, the U.N. humanitarian office’s operations director, Edem Wosornu, told the council.
“And more than 6 million people are now just one step away from famine,” she said. “If the fighting continues, this potential tragedy comes closer to reality every day.”
The fighting has forced 4.1 million people to flee their homes to other places in Sudan and more than 1 million to seek refuge in neighboring countries, Wosornu said, stressing that displacement and insecurity “have driven cases of sexual violence to distressing levels.”
Perthes was a key mediator after the conflict began, but the military government claimed he was biased and informed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on June 8 that he was declared persona non grata.
The U.N. denounced the move, saying that a member of its personnel cannot be declared persona non grata — unacceptable to the government — and that this goes against the U.N. Charter.
In announcing his resignation, Perthes, who was appointed as special representative for Sudan in January 2021, urged the warring sides to end the fighting and warned them “they cannot operate with impunity.”
“There will be accountability for the crimes committed,” he said.
Secretary-General Guterres told a news conference that he had accepted Perthes’ resignation, saying, without elaborating, that the envoy “has very strong reasons to resign.”
Perthes also warned of “the risk of a fragmentation of the country,” pointing to a myriad of compounding crisis, including Darfur, the cross-border mobilization of Arab tribes, fighting in the country’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces between the Sudanese military and rebels, and rising tensions in eastern Sudan amid ongoing tribal mobilization.
He also added — referring to Sudan’s longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2019 — that “the mobilization by former regime elements advocating for a continuation of the war is of particular concern.”
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield sharply criticized Sudan’s military leaders for threatening to end the U.N. political mission in Sudan known as UNITAMS if Perthes addressed the Security Council, calling the threats “unacceptable” and declaring that “No country should be allowed to threaten this council’s ability to carry out its responsibilities for peace and security.”
In a highly unusual procedure aimed at trying to maintain the U.N. mission, the council meeting started with a briefing by Ghana’s ambassador who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Sudan, and Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Mohamed was then given the floor.
He claimed the government “is in control of the political and security initiatives and is communicating with all regional players and international terrorist in order to end the war,” and is receiving “the full support of the Sudanese people who categorically reject the presence of the Rapid Support Forces.”
He urged the Security Council and the international community to support the government, accusing the Rapid Support Forces and their militias summoning “killers and mercenaries” to destroy the country. “The international community must not allow for a new generation of terrorists against the state who who transform (it) into Frankenstein,” he said.
Albania’s U.N. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha then gaveled that council meeting to an end and after the Sudanese ambassador left, he gaveled the start of a new meeting on the secretary-general’s lateat report on Sudan, which opened with the briefing by Perthes.
Thomas-Greenfield told Perthes the United States regrets his departure.
Perthes made no mention of his next steps. A former German academic with extensive background in international relations, Perthes served as chief executive officer and director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs from 2005 to September 2020. From 2015 to 2018, he served as a U.N. assistant secretary-general and senior adviser to U.N. special envoy for Syria.
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