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African leaders meet with Putin seeking ‘road to peace’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Russian President Vladimir Putin are pictured in a split image./Getty Images

(CNN) — African leaders hoping to mediate in the Ukraine war met Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg Saturday.

The delegation aims to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table despite both of them playing down the possibility.

Many African countries have been impacted by the Ukraine war, well into its second year, in particular with grain prices soaring.

A statement released by the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed his arrival in St. Petersburg, alongside the leaders of Zambia, the Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal, and Uganda.

The delegation is “seeking a road to peace to the 16 months long conflict between Ukraine and Russia which has thus caused devastating economic impact, loss of life and global instability,” the statement said.

The leaders visited Kyiv on Friday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

They were initially greeted with explosions and forced to take shelter in bunkers as Russian airstrikes hit the capital.

The delegation voiced concerns that the continent of Africa was suffering under a prolonged conflict, with Ramaphosa insisting to Zelensky that “there should be peace through negotiations.”

But Zelensky rebuffed efforts to bring Kyiv to the negotiating table imminently, and ruled out any peace negotiations with Russia until Moscow’s troops withdraw from his country’s territory.

“Today, I have clearly said repeatedly at our meeting that to allow any negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land means to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering,” he told journalists in a press conference after the meeting.

Ramaphosa’s office had previously described the peace initiative as “the first time that Africa is united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of our continent, and where you have a group of African heads of state and government traveling together in an attempt to find a path to peace to this conflict.”

Western nations have criticized some African countries for not condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and conspicuously stayed away from votes denouncing the invasion at the United Nations General Assembly.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Ramaphosa has been clear that he will not “take sides in a contest between global powers” and that he is pushing for a negotiated end to the confli