Moscow was willing to negotiate with Ukraine in the early months of the war but the US and other western nations advised Kyiv against it, Russia’s foreign minister has claimed.
Sergei Lavrov’s remarks on a visit to South Africa were similar to those made last year by Russian president Vladimir Putin that his country was ready for talks but Ukraine’s western allies prevented them from happening.
The US and other allies have said Moscow is not serious about negotiations to end the war, set to mark its one-year anniversary next month.
“It is well known that we supported the proposal of the Ukrainian side to negotiate early in the special military operation, and by the end of March the two delegations agreed on the principle to settle this conflict,” Mr Lavrov said.
“It is well known and was published openly that our American, British and some European colleagues told Ukraine that it is too early to deal, and the arrangement which was almost agreed was never revisited by the Kyiv regime.”
Russia has repeatedly rejected Ukrainian and western demands that it withdraw completely from Ukraine as a condition for any negotiations. President Joe Biden has indicated he would be willing to talk with Mr Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion.
Mr Lavrov was in Pretoria for talks with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor as Russia pushes to strengthen ties with Africa’s most developed country and a historical ally.
South Africa was seen as the most significant of several African nations to take a neutral stance on the war and refuse to condemn Russia’s invasion – to the disappointment of the US and other western partners who also view South Africa as pivotal to their plans to build relationships in Africa.
Mr Lavrov met Ms Pandor in the South African capital and is expected to visit other countries during his second visit to Africa in the space of six months as Russia seeks to rally support.
“We are fully alert that conflict, wherever it exists in the world, impacts negatively on all of us, and as the developing world it impacts on us particularly as the African continent,” Ms Pandor said.
“This is why as South Africa we consistently articulate that we will always stand ready to support the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the continent and throughout the globe.”
South Africa retains strong bonds with Russia after the Soviet Union’s support for the country’s current ruling party, the African National Congress, when it was a liberation movement fighting to end the apartheid system of repression against South Africa’s black majority.
That relationship is largely what led South Africa to abstain from a United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Despite South Africa’s expressed neutrality over Ukraine, Mr Lavrov’s visit comes days after South African armed forces announced they would hold joint drills with the Russian and Chinese navies off its eastern coast next month.
Mr Lavrov’s visit to Africa last year was closely followed by US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s trip to South Africa, seen as a US bid to counter expanding Russian influence in a strategically important continent.
This time, US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen visited Senegal and Zambia ahead of an official visit to South Africa starting on Wednesday.