Why Any Attempt At Ukraine Peace Is A Non-Starter Right Now
African leaders traveled to both Kyiv and Moscow to discuss a potential "peace plan" for the war in Ukraine. Predictably the envoys failed, and others will likely meet the same fate as Ukraine's counteroffensive kicks into gear and Putin keeps digging in.
PARIS — It was an attempt at mediation that had absolutely no chance of success. The four African presidents who traveled to Kyiv and then on to Moscow left without making any progress in bringing the two sides closer.
The predictable failure can be attributed to two factors: first, ambiguities in the proposals and positioning of the mediators from South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Comoros. And second, the meeting's timing — in the middle of the Ukrainian counteroffensive — wouldn't have allowed for any political movement while the balance of power remains unstable.
Ukraine had the most cautious reaction to the content of the proposals. An end to the fighting today would mean "freezing" the conflict in favor of Russia and its territorial gains, without any guarantee that possible future negotiations would restore the country's sovereignty.
One particular clause in the African plan was unacceptable to Ukrainian ears: the suspension of the indictment of Vladimir Putin before the International Criminal Court for war crimes. African heads of state visited the Ukrainian city of Bucha, site of a massacre of civilians in the early weeks of the Russian invasion, but apparently it did not move them enough to reverse that clause.
"Freezing" the conflict
If there is one positive outcome, it is that this it is the first time that African nations, collectively, have attempted mediation in a conflict in which they are not involved.
Non-alignment primarily benefits the aggressor.
That said, Africa bears the full brunt of consequences of the war, including food insecurity and increasing energy prices and interest rates. Africa had a legitimate claim to make its voice heard. It missed an opportunity due to the diversity of positions on the continent.
On one hand, Africans have good reasons to refuse, like other countries in the Global South, to automatically align themselves in a conflict outside the continent. But in this case, non-alignment primarily benefits the aggressor.
A Russian Army Central Military District serviceman is seen during a combat mission, May 30, 2023, Russia.
Also on the positive side, the African initiative lays the groundwork for the day when negotiations will be possible. It also demonstrates the impatience of the rest of the world regarding the Ukrainian war, even though Africans would have benefited from expressing it more candidly — or more forcefully.
So, negotiations are not on the agenda at the moment. Neither Kyiv nor Moscow are currently inclined towards talks, especially in the midst of a decisive battle.
Ukraine has launched its counteroffensive and hopes to reverse the balance of power. Volodymyr Zelensky is not willing to negotiate before demonstrating on the ground that Ukraine can push back against Russia.
Putin shares a similar reasoning: he believes that his army can withstand the Ukrainian assault, even if they are armed with Western weapons. He hopes to hold onto his territorial gains, including the connection between Donbas and Crimea, and wants to maintain control over the Sea of Azov.
Therefore, it will be weapons that will determine the timing of any potential negotiations, and the balance of power. It is still too early to assess the outcome of the Ukrainian offensive, despite recent announcements of liberated villages or the spectacular destruction of a Russian weapons depot in the Kherson region. No mediation is possible in this context— and certainly not the imperfect one offered by African states.
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