WATCH | 'Zelensky itching to visit SA': Ukraine's foreign ministry

07 March 2024 - 09:56
By Andisiwe Makinana
President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Ukrainian counterpart President Volodymyr Zelensky held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly in New York in September 2023.
Image: GCIS. President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Ukrainian counterpart President Volodymyr Zelensky held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly in New York in September 2023.

KYIV — On a charm offensive to win over Africa and expand trade relations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants to visit South Africa, which would mark his first visit to the continent.

The Ukrainian foreign affairs ministry revealed on Wednesday Zelensky is waiting for South Africa to invite him for a visit on a date yet to be decided.

Ukraine's special representative for the Middle East and Africa, Maksym Subkh said the purpose of the visit would be two-pronged — to thank South Africa for leading last year’s African peace mission aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and to deepen Ukraine’s co-operation with other African countries through South Africa.

Subkh said they were expecting the South African government to inform them through diplomatic channels of suitable dates for such a visit.

He said the idea is for Ukraine to express its appreciation to South Africa for its support for Ukrainian initiatives, starting with the peace formula and ending with the Grain from Ukraine initiative.

Ukraine also sees a possibility for South Africa to play a role in the release of the prisoners of war, as it has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

The other idea is to bring to South Africa more African leaders to organise what could be called a Ukraine-Africa summit, said Subkh.

He said President Cyril Ramaphosa as a respected leader on the continent is capable of bringing other African leaders to Pretoria to meet Zelensky to talk about issues around the Russian aggression including countering Russian propaganda, discussing the negative effect of Russia’s invasion on Africa and to explore deepening co-operation with African states. 

“We consider South Africa to be one of our most important partners in Africa,” said Subkh. “We value the efforts that South Africa did in terms of putting an end to the Russian aggression. We all remember the successful and important visit of the group of African presidents to Ukraine including President Ramaphosa.”

Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa.
Image: Andisiwe Makinana Maksym Subkh, Ukraine's Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa.

Ramaphosa visited Ukraine and Russia in June 2023 on a mission that included the leaders of Zambia, the Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal and Uganda as representatives of a continent that has felt the adverse economic impact of the conflict.

“They visited Ukraine before going to Russia, which was very important. We insisted they come to Ukraine before so you can see with your own eyes what the Russians did to the capital. They visited several places in the capital and saw the destruction,” he said.

Subkh was addressing South African journalists visiting Ukraine to cover the impact of the two-year-old war.

He described South Africa as very important, adding that the two countries maintained consistent dialogue at the highest level.

“Our presidents talk to each other very frequently. They met twice, once in June here in Kyiv and the second time in September last year on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly, followed by many phone conversations between the two presidents.”

There was also a direct line between President Ramaphosa's national security adviser and the head of Ukraine's presidential office Andriy Yermak, he said.

“We value the participation of South Africa on the negotiations of the peace formula starting with ambassadors and ending with security and political advisers, the last of which took place in Davos in January this year.

“We hope and believe that South Africa will play an active role in facilitating and participating in the first peace formula summit which we will organise hopefully this month in Switzerland. We hope and believe that President Ramaphosa will be there and show his support to the comprehensive peace plan that Ukraine introduced aimed at putting an end to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Subkh said the peace formula could be an effective tool for resolution of conflicts in other parts of the world, including those unfolding in Africa. 

Ukraine wants South African companies, especially those that specialise in engineering, and construction, to be part of those that will rebuild that country’s infrastructure destroyed in the war.

South African companies are not only wanted to rebuild damaged and destroyed civil infrastructure, but South Africa and other countries on the continent could help in humanitarian demining, said Subkh.

“We know Africa has vast experience in demining and has the expertise and necessary equipment to do that. We would love to see South Africa among countries that will participate in the humanitarian demining of the polluted territories that the Russians left there.”

During their visit to Ukraine and Russia, the African presidents presented a 10-point proposal which they said could contribute to ending the conflict.

Included in the proposal, were calls for a de-escalation of fighting and for negotiations to start with urgency and the release of POWs, the return of children abducted and taken to Russia‚ greater humanitarian support and reconstruction efforts.