JOHANNESBURG — As South Africa faces increasing pressure over its close ties to Russia, the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said on Tuesday that leaders from six African countries would visit Moscow and Kyiv on a “peace mission” in a bid to end the war in Ukraine.
Mr. Ramaphosa said both President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine welcomed the initiative — which includes Egypt, Zambia, Senegal, Uganda and the Republic of Congo — in separate phone calls over the weekend. Mr. Ramaphosa’s announcement makes South Africa the latest in a string of outsiders aiming to step in as a mediator. An envoy from China, Li Hui, the government’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, is expected in Ukraine and Russia this week in an attempt to help negotiate an end to the war. And Pope Francis has said the Vatican was involved in a secret “mission” to establish peace.
Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin did not immediately comment or confirm Mr. Ramaphosa’s statements, and the time frame for the visits was still unclear. Mr. Zelensky has made clear that he would reject any calls for peace talks that do not include a demand that the Russian military first withdraw from all of Ukraine’s territory. Mr. Putin has shown no signs of wanting to make concessions.
Tensions between the United States and South Africa, which has officially said it would not take sides in the conflict, have escalated in recent days. Last week, the United States ambassador to South Africa accused the government of providing weapons and ammunition via a sanctioned Russian ship that was allowed to dock in a South African naval base last December. South African officials have denied the allegations and appointed a judge to investigate the incident.
“The conflict in that part of the world, much as it does not affect Africa directly in the form of deaths and destruction to our infrastructure, it does have an impact on many Africans,” Mr. Ramaphosa told journalists during a joint media briefing with the visiting Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in Cape Town. The war has led to food insecurity in Africa, with the price of fertilizers and fuel going up, he added.
Mr. Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly newsletter on Monday that the war in Ukraine had brought “extraordinary pressure on the country to abandon its non-aligned position and take sides in what is in effect a contest between Russia and the West.”
South Africa in February hosted a naval drill with Russia and China and allowed two sanctioned Russian vessels to use its military facilities. This week, South Africa’s Army chief visited Moscow for a bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart.
South African officials have also had to face questions over whether they will honor an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court to apprehend Mr. Putin if he attends a meeting of BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — that will be held in South Africa in August.
The issue has triggered a public debate over South Africa’s membership in the court, pitting the governing African National Congress’ historic ties with Russia against the country’s economic ties with the United States and Europe.