South Africa’s Ramaphosa Asked to Mediate Russia-Ukraine Talks


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“It’s a very tricky situation, because South Africa, by the way, has ties with both countries,”

South
Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa says he has been asked to help mediate peace
between Russia and Ukraine, after having spoken to his counterpart Vladimir
Putin. But some analysts are questioning whether South Africa’s ties to Russia
could impact its neutrality.

The
prospective role of mediator comes after the country abstained from a United
Nations vote to reprimand Russia over its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Bheki
Mngomezulu, a professor of political science at the University of the Western
Cape, said the request shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“It’s
a very tricky situation, because South Africa, by the way, has ties with both
countries,” Mngomezulu said. “But in principle, I think that South
Africa did the right thing on this Russian-Ukrainian issue by not siding with
either side. South Africa is being looked at as a country that does not believe
the use of force, but believes in negotiation.”

The
presidency did not specify whether it was Russia or another party that made the
request. This lack of clarity is just one instance contributing to questions
about South Africa’s neutrality.

The
country has also flip-flopped on its position on the conflict

South
Africa’s international relations department issued a statement last month
calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Since then, the call has
been removed from official statements, and Ramaphosa has taken a softer stance.

“Putin
was very happy that he had what Putin regards as an even-handed, balanced
approach to the situation,” said Piers Pigou, a senior consultant on
Southern Africa for the International Crisis Group. “That’s certainly not
the perspective from many other people. It’s inexplicable for some people why
South Africa cannot take a firmer stance on calling for cease-fire.”

South
Africa does have a reputation for conflict mediation.

That
stems from the peaceful transition out of its own racist apartheid regime to supporting
other African nations in conflict, like Sudan.

But
the ruling African National Congress party that led those negotiations also has
decades-old ties to Russia.

“The
ANC historical ties to the old Soviet Union and currently, Russia, may pose questions
for the Ukrainians as to whether South African leader, like Ramaphosa, could be
regarded as an honest broker,” said Charles Nupen, an attorney and
executive chairman of the consulting firm StratAlign. “But I’ve got no
doubt that if he were acceptable to all parties, he’s certainly got the
skillset, and the right approach and experience to lead a mediation
delegation.”

However,
Pigou is not as certain of South Africa’s current expertise.

“I
think that there is a tendency to kind of try and live off the legacy of a
post-apartheid South Africa that was birthed in negotiations. The question,
though, remains whether South Africa really has the competencies and capacities
to deliver on mediation,” Pigou said.

Regardless
of who mediates negotiations, Nupen said there remain other questions on how it
will play out.

“Under
whose auspices would this mediation take place? Where would it be held? How
would the table be set? And, you know, what would the mediation agenda
be?” he asked.

Nupen
said he imagines the first priority would be to get a cease-fire in place.

 

VOA


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