Latest in Ukraine: Putin, Zelenskyy Reject African Peace Initiative

Latest developments:

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Saturday there seems to be "no chance" of extending the U.N.-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative that allows Ukraine to export grain safely through Russian-controlled waters.
Two volunteers, a man and a woman, were killed Saturday by a Russian missile strike on the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, said regional governor Oleh Syniehubov on the Telegram messaging app.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will ask entrepreneurs and businesses, at a conference next week, to bolster investment in Ukraine’s private sector and help it rebuild and recover after Russia's invasion.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected a peace initiative brought to St. Petersburg on Saturday by a delegation of African leaders hoping to see an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The leaders from seven African countries told Putin war is harming the entire world. The delegation met with Putin a day after they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Both leaders indicated the plan was unworkable.

Putin opened Saturday’s talks with representatives from Comoros, Congo Republic, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia in a palace near St. Petersburg by stressing Russia’s commitment to the continent.

But the Russian president rejected the delegation’s peace plan based on the acceptance of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. He repeated his position that Ukraine and its Western allies were responsible for the conflict long before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin also said the West was responsible for a sharp rise in global food prices early last year that has hit Africa especially hard. He told the delegation that Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports were doing nothing to alleviate Africa’s difficulties with high food prices because they had largely gone to wealthy countries.

Russia has recently indicated it would not renew the Black See Grain Initiative brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July. Putin said the West had gone back on its promises to ease Russia’s ability to export its agricultural products.

The delegation’s peace initiative had been rejected a day earlier in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that any peace talks would presuppose the withdrawal of Moscow’s forces from occupied Ukrainian territory, something Russia has said is not negotiable.

In his nightly video address Saturday, Zelenskyy thanked Ukraine’s Western allies for the military and humanitarian support they are providing in its fight against Russia’s invasion.  Zelenskyy also thanked everyone who helped Ukraine overcome “the consequences of the Russian terrorist attack on the Kakhovka HPP.”

Zelenskyy also thanked Luxemburg for officially recognizing Holodomor as a genocide against the Ukrainian people. Luxemburg is the 26th country to officially do so.

He also thanked Poland for supporting Ukraine’s membership to NATO.

President Joe Biden said Saturday his administration would not “make it easy” for Ukraine to join NATO. Last week he had indicated he was open to waiving the requirement that Ukraine make the same military and democratic reforms all candidates must meet before it being considered for NATO membership.

But when he was asked Saturday whether Ukraine’s path to joining the transatlantic alliance would be eased, he said no. “Because they’ve got to meet the same standards. So, we’re not going to make it easy,” he said.

Putin warned Friday that there is a “serious danger” the NATO military alliance could be pulled further into Russia’s war on Ukraine. He made the comment at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he promoted Russia’s economy despite heavy international sanctions imposed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nuclear weapons

Putin confirmed that Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus has begun, reminding the West that it could not inflict a strategic defeat on Russia.

“The first nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus. But only the first ones, the first part. But we will do this job completely by the end of the summer or by the end of the year,” he said.

Speaking Friday at Russia’s economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin emphasized that he saw no need for Russia to resort to nuclear weapons, for now. He said delivering shorter-range nuclear weapons to Belarus, which could be used on the battlefield, was intended as a warning to the West about arming and supporting Ukraine.

The White House denounced Putin’s comments and said the U.S. had made no adjustments to its nuclear position in response to the rhetoric.

US humanitarian assistance

The United States on Friday announced additional humanitarian assistance of $205 million for Ukraine that will provide critical support such as food, safe water, accessible shelter and more for Ukraine.

“The U.S. response is advancing Ukraine’s overall security, economic recovery, energy security and capacity to cope with the humanitarian crisis created by Russia’s war.  We welcome the contributions of other donors toward this crisis response and urge yet more donors to generously support the serious humanitarian needs in Ukraine and the region,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The U.S. aid package brings the total humanitarian assistance for Ukraine to more than $605 million during fiscal year 2023. Since February 2022, the United States has provided more than $2.1 billion in humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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