African leaders hoping to mediate in the Ukraine conflict were welcomed to a government palace near St Petersburg on Saturday by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had said after meeting the leaders in Kyiv on Friday that peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdrew its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory.
He added that he could not understand what could be gained from the delegation meeting Putin.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Kyiv that the leaders had come “to share the African perspective” and saw talks with Russia as part of the mission.
The leaders from Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Congo Republic and the Comoro islands as well as South Africa were meeting Putin at the government’s 18th-century Konstantinovsky Palace, on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland.
Television footage showed them shaking hands with Putin and then being welcomed into a room with a circular conference table.
The African leaders are seeking agreement on a series of “confidence building measures” even as Ukraine last week began a counteroffensive to push back Russian forces from Ukrainian territory they occupy.
The Kremlin has played down the chances of meaningful talks with Kyiv. It says conditions for a peace process are not in place and that any settlement must take account of “new realities”, but that it is open to outside initiatives and ready to listen.
He recalled South Africa’s late president Nelson Mandela saying that “even when the conflict becomes most intense, that is when peace should be made”.