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Ukraine War: African Peace Plan, Russian Assets Frozen, and Zelenskyy Replenishes Weapons and Ammo

Here’s everything you need to know about the latest developments in the Ukraine war for Tuesday 16 May 2023.

Ukrainian air defenses, bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied systems, thwarted an intense Russian air attack on Kyiv early Tuesday, shooting down all 18 missiles aimed at the capital, officials said.

The bombardment included six Russian “Kinzhal” aero-ballistic hypersonic missiles — the most fired in a single attack in the war so far — according to air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat.

The attack came as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned from a whirlwind weekend tour of Europe where he held talks with leaders in Italy, Germany, France and the UK – extracting promises of missiles, tanks and drones to replenish Ukraine’s depleted weapons supplies ahead of a long-anticipated spring offensive aimed at turning the tide of the war.

The trip was also about shoring up European political and military support for the longer term, to ensure Ukraine can hold any ground it takes back and press for a favorable peace.

“They’ve got to show … they’re in this conflict for the long term and that they’re able to keep sustaining this effort,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who heads security consultancy Sibylline. “It’s not going to be one shot and done.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said Tuesday.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.

“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said.

The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Ramaphosa, he said in a statement. Putin and Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to “commence the preparations,” the South African leader said.

Four of those six African countries — South Africa, Congo, Senegal and Uganda — abstained from a UN vote last year on condemning Russia’s invasion. Zambia and Egypt voted in favor of the motion.

Ramaphosa did not give a time frame or outline any parameters for the possible peace talks. Zelenskyy has previously said he would not consider a peace deal to end the 15-month war until Russian forces withdraw completely from Ukrainian territory.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also was briefed on the African delegation’s planned meetings and “welcomed the initiative,” Ramaphosa said.

South Africa’s leading position in the African delegation is bound to draw scrutiny. Ramaphosa’s announcement came days after the US ambassador accused South Africa of siding with Russia in the war in Ukraine and even providing weapons to help Moscow. 

US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety alleged last week that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship at a South African naval base in December and taken to Russia. The South African government has denied it sent any weapons to Russia.

Ramaphosa has said the matter is under investigation. South Africa has claimed its position on the war is neutral. 

Cyprus freezes €1.2 billion in Russian assets

The finance ministry in Cyprus revealed on Tuesday that some €1.2 billion in Russian-owned assets, managed by Cyprus-registered companies, were frozen in compliance with sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The ministry said “the vast majority” of those assets were held in European Union credit institutions and the entire amount came on top of €105 million frozen by banks in Cyprus.

The ministry provided the information in response to European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders saying last week that Cyprus appeared to be falling behind on freezing Russian-owned assets.

Reynders said that while other EU member nations each froze 2-4 billion euros worth of Russian assets, Cyprus’ reported sum of around €100 million “seems to be a little low.”

The Finance Ministry said this was an error caused by the European Commission receiving incomplete information – an error since rectified by updating a relevant database.

Meanwhile, the Cypriot government is stepping up its supervisory capacity to ensure compliance with international sanctions by setting up a specialized unit modeled after the UK’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), according to the ministry.

The Cyprus government is also keen on joining a European Commission program on supporting “the effective and uniform implementation of sanctions.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed to expand the country’s non-lethal aid to Kyiv when he met with Ukraine’s first lady Tuesday in Seoul.

Olena Zelenska visited South Korea as a special envoy of President Volodymyr Zelensky. During her meeting with Yoon, Zelenska requested South Korea expand its support of non-lethal military supplies, including equipment for detecting and removing mines and ambulance vehicles, according to Yoon’s office.

Yoon replied that his government would closely coordinate with NATO and other international partners to “actively support the Ukrainian people,” his spokesperson Lee Do Woon said during a briefing.

Yoon also condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the “horrific losses of innocent lives, especially women and children, are unacceptable under any circumstances,” according to remarks shared by his office.

Lee said Zelenska made no request for South Korean weapons supplies during her conversation with Yoon.

South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine while joining economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms to Ukraine, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.