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African Peace Delegation Heads to Russia, Meets Putin

Senegal's President Macky Sall (R) and Comoros President Azali Assoumani (L) arriving at Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg to attend the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told African leaders on Saturday that Russia welcomed their balanced approach to the conflict in Ukraine and was open to discussions.

"We are open to a constructive dialog with all those who want peace based on the principles of justice and consideration of the legitimate interests of the parties," Putin said.

The leaders from South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Congo Republic and the Comoro islands were meeting Putin at the government's 18th-century Konstantinovsky Palace, near St Petersburg, after visiting Kyiv on Friday.

Senegal President Macky Sall said "Africa wants peace between Russia and Ukraine and we're convinced this peace is possible with dialogue."

Television footage showed them shaking hands with Putin and then being welcomed into a room with a circular conference table.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Kyiv that the leaders had come "to share the African perspective" and saw talks with Russia as part of the mission.

Ukrainian President VVolodymyr Zelenskyy had said after meeting the leaders in Kyiv on Friday that peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdrew its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory.

He added that he could not understand what could be gained from the delegation meeting Putin.

The African leaders are seeking agreement on a series of "confidence building measures" even as Ukraine last week began a counteroffensive to push back Russian forces from Ukrainian territory they occupy.

The Kremlin has played down the chances of meaningful talks with Kyiv. It says conditions for a peace process are not in place and that any settlement must take account of "new realities," but that it is open to outside initiatives and ready to listen.

He recalled South Africa's late president Nelson Mandela saying that "even when the conflict becomes most intense, that is when peace should be made."

Ukraine tells African mission no peace talks with Russia before withdrawal