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Can the 'African-Ukraine Peace Mission' Deliver?

FILE - From Left to Right, Hakainde Hichilema, president of Zambia, Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, Macky Sall, president of Senegal and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

WASHINGTON — Analysts say an "African-Ukraine Peace Mission" delegation announced by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to try to end Russia’s war in Ukraine is unlikely to "bear fruits" without the vested interest of global powers, and as Pretoria's neutrality in the war remains in dispute.

President Ramaphosa announced on May 16 that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy had agreed to separately host six African leaders in Moscow and Kyiv in a bid to help end the 15-month old conflict.

The statement said the presidents of the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Senegal, Zambia, Egypt and South Africa will make up the "Africa Leaders Peace Mission," which it said has been welcomed by António Guterres, the United Nations' Secretary-General.

Washington and Britain have expressed "cautious support" for an African peace plan upon the statement from Pretoria.

On Thursday, the Kremlin confirmed that it would host the delegation on a yet- to-be announced date, although a South African senior foreign affairs ministry official said the talks are slated for June without a definitive date.

"We have already said that we are ready to listen with great attention to any proposals that will contribute to resolving the situation in Ukraine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Prince Mashele, executive director at the Johannesburg Center for Politics and Research, told VOA that the "African-Ukraine Peace Mission" will not achieve any "practical objective."

"There are big global players that have interests in that war. And if those global players don't agree either to negotiate or to end the war, there is absolutely no influence that a very small and inconsequential players like African states can bring to bear on developments on the war front," he said.

Mashele said the announcement of an African mission to help facilitate peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv is likely to raise eyebrows at the level of global powers like the United States, the European Union, China and the United Kingdom, whom he said "have vested interests" in the war.

"They (the global powers) would be watching… what are these little boys going to do in Moscow and in Kyiv, where these big players have massive interests? It will produce no fruits whatsoever," he said.

When VOA asked if the African leaders could make inroads based on the acceptance of mediatory efforts by Putin and Zelenskyy, the South African analyst rejected the argument, citing the famous "socially-distanced" conferment between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin at the start of the war, which he noted failed to yield the results Macron and the E.U. were hoping for.

Aleix Montana, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a London-based risk intelligence company, told VOA in written responses, that the announcement by the South African president "is little more than a publicity stunt without a clear timeframe or agenda for discussions."

"President Ramaphosa’s peace mission announcement comes at a time when South Africa’s neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war is being called into question," he said.

"The initiative is unlikely to lead to a peaceful resolution of the war. The six African nations lack the leverage to achieve meaningful compromises from both parties."

African States' Neutrality

Of the six African nations, four – Uganda, Senegal, the Republic of the Congo and South Africa, abstained from a U.N. vote last year to condemn Russia for its attack on Ukraine. Egypt and Zambia, however voted in favor of the resolution.

"The participation of Egypt will be another fissure in Africa’s peace initiative, as the country has rebuffed U.S. requests to close its airspace to Russia," Montana said.

"Washington and Kyiv fear that Russia might use Egyptian airspace to transfer weapons from Syria to support Moscow’s war effort, as Russia is struggling to fly military aircraft around the Middle East. Egypt risks being perceived complicit in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine."

Last week, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety accused Pretoria of supplying weapons and ammunitions to Moscow last December. The South African government has denied sending weapons to Russia, but President Ramaphosa said the matter is being probed.

Verisk Maplecroft’s Africa analyst said the allegations "has drastically reduced the credibility of Ramaphosa as a mediator in the conflict."

"South Africa’s decision to host the Russian and Chinese navies for military exercises back in February showed that Pretoria’s neutrality is far from assured."

Africa Mediation First

Richard Gowan, the International Crisis Group’s representative at the United Nations, told VOA that the Ukrainians would be concerned about South Africa leading the peace push, adding that it’s critical that any attempted peace process takes both Moscow’s and Kyiv’s interests into account.

"The first task for the African mediation group will be to convince Kyiv and Kyiv’s allies that this is a good faith initiative that could actually lead to a deal that would satisfy the Ukrainians," he said.

"The Ukrainians are very concerned there’ll be a push for a ceasefire and that even if Russia did pause its hostilities, it would simply use that as an opportunity to firm up its control over the parts of Ukraine that it has seized."

The Johannesburg-based Center for Politics and Research analyst concluded by urging the African leaders to instead channel their attention to Sudan, "and make sure that you have peace at home."

"There is a civil war in Sudan. They (African leaders) are supposed to go to Khartoum instead of Moscow and Kyiv and try and make sure that there is peace in their own backyard," he said.

"In fact, they are rendering themselves a laughing stock by going to Kyiv and Moscow, leaving their own backyard burning."

VOA’s Darren Taylor in Johannesburg, Hassuna Baishu and the Associated Press contributed to this article.