A delegation of African leaders including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg on Saturday as part of its mission to try to broker peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv. The meeting comes a day after the delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and as Putin confirmed that he has deployed tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
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10:05pm: Kyiv says 16 died, 31 missing in Kherson, Mykolaiv after dam flooding
Ukrainian authorities on Saturday reported 16 dead and 31 missing from the devastating floods triggered by the destruction of a Russian-held dam, for which Kyiv and Moscow blame each other.
“Sixteen people died: 14 in the Kherson region and two in the Mykolaiv region. Thirty-one people are still missing,” the Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs said, after Russia announced 29 dead in areas it controls.
9:05pm: Ukraine flood death toll, in Russian-held areas rises to 29, pro-Moscow officials say
The death toll from devastating floods in Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine has risen to 29, a regional official said Saturday.
“Unfortunately, the number of dead has increased to 29,” said Andrei Aleseyenko, head of the Russian-installed government in Kherson. The previous toll listed 17 dead from the June 6 destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, on the Dnipr River.
8:54pm: Russia says African peace deal difficult to realise, despite Putin’s interest
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday in televised remarks that Moscow shared the main approaches of an African peace plan, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying it was difficult to realise.
Peskov was quoted as saying Russia would continue dialogue with the African countries whose representatives brought their proposals to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Putin showed interest in the plan, he said.
Lavrov said the African leaders had not brought Putin any message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whom they had met in Kyiv on Friday.
8:45pm: Russia’s Putin lectures African leaders over mediation attempt
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday interrupted opening remarks by African leaders seeking to mediate in the Ukraine conflict to deliver a list of reasons why he believed many of their proposals were misguided.
After presentations from the Comoran, Senegalese and South African leaders, he stepped in to challenge the assumptions of the plan before the round of comments from all the representatives could go any further.
Putin reiterated his position that Ukraine and the West had started the conflict long before Russia sent its armed forces over the border in February last year.
The African plan includes a call for all children caught up in the conflict to be returned to where they came from, but Putin said Russia was not preventing any Ukrainian children from returning home. “We took them out of a conflict zone, saving their lives,” he said.
8:25pm Putin says ‘open to constructive dialogue’, blames Kyiv for absence of talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin told African leaders in Saint Petersburg on Saturday Russia was “open to constructive dialogue with anyone who wants to establish peace on the principles of fairness and acknowledgement of the legitimate interests of the parties”.
However, Russia has said repeatedly that any settlement must take account of “new realities”, meaning its declared annexation of five Ukrainian provinces, four of which it only partially controls.
After interrupting remarks by African leaders seeking to mediate in the Ukraine conflict, Putin said Russia had never refused talks with the Ukrainian side, which had been blocked by Kyiv.
6:45pm: Putin tells African delegation global food crisis not a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine despite data proving otherwise
The crisis on the global food market is not a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine, but has been rather caused by the actions of Western countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin told African leaders on Saturday, despite an overwhelming majority of experts and all available data proving it is due to the war’s consequences.
Putin also said exports of Ukrainian grain under a deal ensuring its safe passage through the Black Sea are not helping to resolve Africa‘s problems with high global food prices as only 3% have gone to the poorest countries.
6:35pm: South Africa’s Ramaphosa tells Putin ‘war’ has to have an end
“This war must be settled… through negotiations and through diplomatic means,” said Ramaphosa, who added that “we would like this war to be ended. We say so because this war is having a negative impact on the African continent and indeed on many other countries around the world.”
We have come to listen to you and through you to hear the voice of the Russian people,” said Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who currently heads the African Union. “We wanted to encourage you to enter into negotiations with Ukraine,” he said.
6:05pm: Putin hails ‘balanced approach’ of African countries on Ukraine conflict
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday praised the “balanced approach” of African countries towards the Ukraine conflict, ahead of formal talks with the delegation aiming to push for peace between Kyiv and Moscow.
“We welcome the balanced approach of African friends to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told African leaders from seven countries, adding: “We are open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want to implement peace based on the principles of justice and respect for the parties’ legitimate interests.”
5:45pm: African leaders meet Putin for talks on Ukraine war
Leaders and representatives from South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville and Comoros 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. With all members of the delegation seated, Putin opened the meeting with a speech welcoming African countries’ “balanced stance” on the war in Ukraine.
The African delegation is 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.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 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.
4:45pm: Ukraine has ‘to meet the same standards’ to join NATO as other countries, Biden says
The United States won’t make special arrangements for Ukraine to join the NATO military alliance, President Joe Biden said Saturday, despite Russia’s invasion.
“They’ve got to meet the same standards. So we’re not going to make it easy,” the US president told reporters near Washington.
4:30pm: Shelling in flooded areas of Kherson increases as residents say Moscow’s forces returning after Kakhovka dam blast
Residents on the left bank of the Dnipro River in a Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s Kherson region say Russian forces are returning to the area following the flooding that occurred after the blast at the Nova Kakhovka dam. FRANCE 24’s Gwendoline Debono reports.
3:05pm: South Africa’s Ramaphosa arrives in Russia amid African leaders’ peace mission
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived on Saturday in Russia, as part of a mission of African leaders aiming to push for peace between Moscow and Kyiv, the South African presidency said.
“His arrival in Russia’s cultural capital, follows constructive discussions with President Volodymyr Zelensky,” the presidency said, adding the African delegation would “meet with President Vladimir Putin to seek 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.”
His Excellency President @CyrilRamaphosa has arrived at St Petersburg International Airport in the Russian Federation where he joins other African Heads of State and Government participating in the Africa Peace Initiative for peace talks with His Excellency President Vladimir… pic.twitter.com/fiHaRuEY3w
— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) June 17, 2023
1:31pm: African delegation to Ukraine and Russia has a ‘neutrality problem’, some critics say
The self-styled African peace delegation that visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, and that is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg today, has a “neutrality problem”, some critics say, with zero chance of succeeding with its mission, FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor Douglas Herbert explained.
“You have six nations taking part in this mission, and what is interesting is that more than a dozen African nations failed to condemn the Russian invasion early on. Four of the nations on this mission abstained from that [UN] resolution condemning the invasion (South Africa, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville and Uganda)”, Herbert said, noting that Egypt and Zambia did vote to condemn it.
“So you have a neutrality problem here,” Herbert said, adding that “all roads in this delegation really lead to its most influential member, South Africa, which last month was accused by the US ambassador to Pretoria of supplying Russia with weapons and ammunition. South Africa has denied the allegations.
>> Read more : South African ties to Russia shadow Ukraine peace mission
Aside from being seen as lacking in neutrality, Herbert said critics view the mission as “small fry” that will not be able to accomplish any kind of de-escalation.
1:19pm: Russian missile kills four in Kharkiv region, governor says
A Russian missile strike on a small village in the Kharkiv region in the east killed four people on Saturday, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said.
Synehubov said on the Telegram messaging app that the Russian military shelled the village of Huryiv Kozachok and an anti-tank guided missile hit a car driving towards the village, which is near the border with Russia. Four civilians who were in the car died on the spot, he said.
Ukraine liberated many villages and towns in the Kharkiv region last autumn but since then the Russian military has frequently shelled the area, destroying critical infrastructure and injuring and killing residents.
11:39am: Russia says it repelled drone attack on oil refinery in Bryansk
Russia on Saturday said air defence forces had destroyed three drones targeting an oil refinery in the southern border region of Bryansk, as Ukraine pursues its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
“Russian air defence systems repelled an overnight attack by the Ukrainian armed forces on the ‘Druzhba’ oil refinery in the district of Novozybkov,” the governor of the Bryansk region, Alexander Bogomaz, said.
He did not mention any damage.
10:06am: Russian defence minister says more tanks needed in Ukraine
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday called for more tanks to be manufactured “to meet the needs of Russian forces” in Ukraine after Kyiv launched a counteroffensive with Western arms.
Shoigu, who visited a military factory in western Siberia, stressed the need “to maintain the increased production of tanks” and for better security features in armoured vehicles, the defence ministry said.
Shoigu said this was necessary “to satisfy the needs of Russian forces carrying out the special military operation” in Ukraine, it added.
9:46am: Kremlin links granting accreditations to Western media with ‘behaviour’
Russia will take into account the “behaviour” of Western media when deciding whether to accredit their journalists for major forums in Russia, the state-owned TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Saturday.
Journalists from countries that Russia calls “unfriendly” did not get accreditation for the ongoing St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
7:07am: African leaders prepare to meet Putin after Zelensky rules out talks
A high-level African delegation was set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the northwestern city of St Petersburg this Saturday, a day after its calls for talks between Moscow and Kyiv were rebuffed by Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.
“In our view it is important to listen very carefully to what both countries have to say, and tomorrow we are now going to listen to President Putin,” said South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose delegation consists also of the presidents of Senegal, Zambia and Comoros.
The leaders of Uganda, Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville pulled out of the visit at the last moment and sent representatives instead.
The diplomatic team visited Kyiv on Friday, where Ramaphosa insisted “there should be peace through negotiations”.
But Zelensky ruled out that possibility: “I clearly said several times at our meeting that to allow any negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering”.
10:26pm, June 16: ‘Every metre’ of recaptured Ukrainian land ‘of utmost importance’, says Zelensky
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that every metre of Ukrainian territory recaptured from Russian occupying forces was “of the utmost importance” in Ukraine’s current counteroffensive against them.
“Our movement forward is the most critical thing,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address after meeting top military commanders.
“Every soldier, every new step we take, every metre of Ukrainian land freed from the enemy is of utmost importance.”
9:27pm: Zelensky urges African leaders to press Putin on release of political prisoners
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to a group of African leaders to ask Vladimir Putin to free political prisoners from Crimea and beyond – saying it would be an “important step” in their trip to the Russian city of St Petersburg on Saturday.
Several African leaders – the presidents of Comoros, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia – as well as Egypt’s prime minister and top envoys from Congo-Brazzaville and Uganda visited Ukraine on Friday as part of a self-styled “peace mission” to both Ukraine and Russia to try to help end the nearly 16-month-old war between them.
The tenor of the press conference soured when Comoros President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “road map” to peace, prompting questions from Zelensky, who sought a clarification and insisted he didn’t want “any surprises” from their visit with Putin.
Zelensky then urged them to help free political prisoners from Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
“Would you please ask Russia to liberate the political prisoners?” Zelensky said. “Maybe this will be an important result of your mission, of your ‘road map’.”
5:35pm: Putin says Russia sent nuclear warheads to Belarus
“The first nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus … This is the first part,” Putin told the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
It was the first time the Russian leader confirmed the move himself.
Putin said the weapons are meant as deterrence to “those who are thinking of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia”. Belarusian troops began training on nuclear-capable Russian missile systems in April.
Key developments from Friday, June 16:
An African delegation including the leaders of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Comoros met with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine and called on both Kyiv and Moscow to de-escalate hostilities and engage in peace talks. Zelensky ruled out the talks, saying that “negotiations with Russia now that the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war, to freeze pain and suffering”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told an economic forum in St Petersburg that Russian tactical nuclear weapons had now been deployed to Belarus and should serve as a deterrence to “those who are thinking of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)