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Putin: Russia not rejecting talks on Ukraine, African leaders' initiative could be basis for peace

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference following the Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on July 29, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow does not reject the idea of holding talks on the war in Ukraine, noting that an initiative offered by African leaders could serve as a basis for peace.

He made the remarks on Saturday while addressing a press conference after meeting with African leaders in St Petersburg on Friday and hearing their peace proposals concerning the war in Ukraine.

"The [African] initiative, in my opinion, can be the basis of some processes aimed at search for peace, like others, for example, the Chinese peace initiative," Putin said.

The Russian president noted that, in general, the conversation he had with African leaders about the peace initiative was long and substantive, stressing that it lasted about two hours.

"Everyone spoke out on this issue," he said, adding, "I want to emphasize once again: it was from an absolutely friendly position. It was a real search for some ways, some opportunities in order to defuse the situation."

On the question of starting peace talks, Putin emphasized that "in order for this [peace] process to begin, there needs to be agreement on both sides."

Moscow says it started what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine in order to defend the pro-Russian population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev, and also to "de-Nazify" its neighbor.

Russia holds that the West's anti-Russian agendas, including its eagerness for inclusion of Ukraine in NATO -- and, therefore, the Western military alliance's expansion right up to Russia's borders -- forced Moscow to launch the war on the ex-Soviet Republic.

"There are provisions of this [African] peace initiative that are being implemented," Putin said, adding, "But there are things that are difficult or impossible to implement."

One of the points in the initiative was a ceasefire, he said, adding, "But the Ukrainian army is on the offensive; they are attacking; they are implementing a large-scale strategic offensive operation... We cannot cease fire when we are under attack."

China has also come up with a peace plan calling for an immediate ceasefire, dialogue, and respect for all countries' territorial sovereignty. The plan also urges both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation and warns against the use of nuclear weapons.

Ukraine has, however, rejected the idea of holding talks with Russia, saying Moscow has to first withdraw from the Ukrainian territories that are now under its control.

'No serious changes on Ukrainian front'

Adding to his remarks, Putin said there will be no serious changes and no intensification of actions on the Ukrainian front for now.

Putin noted that the Ukrainian armed forces have recently been trying to attack Russian positions on foot to save military equipment because they are afraid of losing them.

The Russian president announced that Ukraine has lost 415 tanks and 1,300 armored vehicles since June 4, when Kiev's counteroffensive started.

"At this point in time, since June 4, I said [earlier], I think 405 tanks were lost - this is what we see. Now it's 415. And more than 1,300 units of armored vehicles of various classes," Putin said, adding that of the above-mentioned equipment, "probably two-thirds is Western."

He then asserted that the change in the Ukrainian tactics is "absolutely definitely" connected with the losses of armored vehicles.

'Preventative strikes in Crimea'

Elsewhere in his remarks, Putin said the Russian military has been forced to stage a number of preventative strikes in Crimea after a Ukrainian "terrorist attack" damaged the Crimean Bridge.

"The Russian armed forces launched a series of preventive strikes on the places where these drones were sent from and where they were produced," he said.

Putin added that he has received proposals to improve the safety of the bridge, and they would be implemented.

A Russian couple was killed and their 14-year-old daughter wounded last week in the Ukrainian attack that also knocked out the road part of the bridge, which links Russia to the peninsula.

'Russia stands to benefit from withdrawing from grain deal'

Concluding his comments, Putin pointed to his country's recent withdrawal from the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal, under which it allowed Ukrainian grain to be shipped from seaports despite the war.

Russia quit the deal, saying promises made to Moscow about facilitating its own grain and fertilizer exports had not been met.

Putin said his country stands to benefit from the move, since Russian companies would get more profit thanks to a subsequent increase in grain prices.

He also vowed that Russia will share the profit with the poorest countries thanks to free delivery of its grain.

Addressing the Russian-African conference earlier, the Russian president had said that his country would be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Eritrea with 25-50,000 tons of free grain each in the upcoming 3-4 months.

This is while over 70 percent of the Ukrainian grain exported thanks to the deal had gone to high- or above-average-income countries, including in the European Union, and that the poorest countries, like Sudan, had been "screwed over" and received less than 3 percent of the shipments, he told the event.

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