Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that an initiative presented by African leaders could be a basis for peace in Moscow’s war on Ukraine but claimed that attacks from Kyiv made a cessation of hostilities “virtually impossible”.
The Russian leader made the comments in Moscow on Saturday after meeting leaders from Africa in Saint Petersburg and hearing their calls for Russia to move ahead with their plan.
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The proposal, according to the Reuters news agency, floats a series of possible steps to defuse the conflict, including a Russian troop pullback, removal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus, suspension of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against Putin and sanctions relief.
Details of the proposal have not been publicised.
“There are things that are virtually impossible to implement, like a ceasefire – but Ukraine is advancing, they’re on a strategic offensive, how do we hold our fire when they’re advancing on us?” Putin told reporters.
“This can only be a bilateral initiative. But the [African] initiative in my opinion can become the foundation of certain processes towards a peaceful resolution, just like China’s initiative, there’s no competition or contradiction here,” he said.
Kyiv, too, has previously poured cold water on the African plan.
The Chinese proposal, unveiled earlier this year, is a 12-point position paper that calls for a de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, has rejected the idea of a ceasefire now, which would leave Russia in control of nearly a fifth of his country and give its forces time to regroup after 17 grinding months of war.
He has also said that peace talks would require Moscow to withdraw its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory, something Russia has said is not negotiable.
Commenting on the subject of peace talks, Putin said, “We did not reject them”, but that “in order for this process to begin, there needs to be agreement on both sides”.
The Russian president also appeared to downplay not attending an economic summit in South Africa’s Johannesburg next month amid the controversy over the ICC arrest warrant, issued over war crimes relating to the abduction of children from Ukraine.
Asked about his reasons for not going, Putin told Russian journalists that he was “in contact with all colleagues” from the bloc of developing economies known as BRICS, and said he did not “think my presence at the BRICS summit is more important that my presence here, in Russia, right now”.
He added that he will take part via video link and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to the August 22-24 gathering, which will bring together leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome treaty that formed the ICC and is therefore obligated to arrest the Russian leader if he sets foot on South African territory.
South Africa had given strong hints that it would not arrest Putin if he attended but had also been lobbying for him not to come to avoid the problem.
Although Moscow dismissed the warrant, Putin has not travelled to a country that is a signatory to the ICC treaty since his indictment. Analysts have said that the public debate about whether the Russian leader would travel to South Africa was in itself an unwelcome development for the Kremlin.