Ramaphosa's Russian peace mission hits a snag as security stuck in Poland
While President Cyril Ramaphosa rubbed shoulders with Poland's President Andrzej Duda, his security detail and South African journalists were stranded at Warsaw Chopin Airport
WARSAW — President Cyril Ramaphosa's advance team meant to provide critical security in Kyiv, Ukraine, remained stuck on their plane in Poland on Thursday night because of aviation regulations and bureaucracy.
While President Cyril Ramaphosa rubbed shoulders with his Polish counterpart, President Andrzej Duda, his security detail and a media contingent were stranded at Warsaw Chopin Airport.
Ramaphosa, who was accompanied by international relations minister Naledi Pandor and special adviser Bajani Chauke, paid a courtesy call to Duda ahead of his peace initiative to bring an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine.
The “road to peace” journey has been marred by challenges including technical, red tape and extreme logistical issues even before the flight left SA.
The journalists covering the mission travelled abroad with specialised police officers including the presidential protection services and the army, among others, were not allowed to disembark in Poland.
The flight with more than 120 people on board, left SA around 1.30am on Thursday, and experienced problems two hours before arriving in Warsaw.
The flight was flagged in Mediterranean waters after it failed to get clearance to fly over Italian airspace. The plane flew around in circles about six times before it resumed its flight on the route to Warsaw.
The flight eventually landed at the Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland about 1.18pm and while on the flight, the Presidency tweeted that Ramaphosa had arrived for his working visit to Poland and Ukraine.
The journalists on board were told there were “issues” with the plane that was meant to transport them to Rzezouw as the “chartered flight had not arrived”. An hour into the wait, they were told that Ramaphosa had departed in his jet, named Nkwazi, to Rzesouw to make his way to Kyiv, Ukraine.
Members of the special forces were still in the plane when Ramaphosa started his journey to Kyiv. At this stage it was not clear if his counterparts from Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Congo Brazzaville had arrived.
During the wait, cargo was offloaded while the media and special forces contingents waited for clearance.
Ramaphosa's security people left the flight. A source told TimesLIVE that the charted flight had not arrived and the embassy had been roped in to assist.
After four hours of waiting the pilot and crew went to the back of the plane where they were heard talking about the matter.
After the brief meeting, the pilot announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have experienced so many challenges and have done so much to make things work. However, I am very proud to be the captain of this flight and team of cabin crew.
“At this point we have tried so much to make things work and I am very proud of my crew and want to thank my crew publicly.
“I just wanted to inform you that given the challenges we are experiencing, the crew has decided that they are going to remain here on the plane with you, while we allow the pilots to have their minimum time off as required by law.
“As soon as we have that minimum time off, they will be back and we shall make a plan to complete the mission.”
The pilot said the crew would arrange to have the aircraft cleaned. TimesLIVE understands that the minimum required rest for pilots was about 10 hours.
A source told TimesLIVE that the pilot was to blame for the logistical nightmare.
“The pilot was supposed to head straight to Rzesouw but he diverted to Warsaw.”
TimesLIVE understands that a row started among the SAA crew members because some wanted to go to sleep in compliance with aviation rules.
The special forces were in a predicament: how to get to Kyiv in time to support and protect the president.
The source said: “One of the options on the table was to procure the Ukrainian plane UR-CBG plane parked at the Poland airport to fly us to the Ukraine border and then take a bus to Kyiv.”
By 6pm Ramaphosa had made his way to Kyiv — with his special forces members left on the tarmac.
This is a developing story.
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