https://www.jpost.com/international/article-701534

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine and said he would resist calls to condemn Russia, in comments that cast doubt over whether he would be accepted by Ukraine or the West as a mediator.

“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” Ramaphosa said in response to questions in parliament.

But he added that South Africa “cannot condone the use of force and violation of international law” – an apparent reference to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Ramaphosa also revealed that Putin had assured him personally that negotiations were making progress. The South African leader said he had not yet talked with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but that he wanted to.

On Friday, Ramaphosa said South Africa had been asked to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He did not say who had asked him to intervene. 

“There are those who are insisting that we should take a very adversarial stance against Russia. The approach we are going to take (instead) is … insisting that there should be dialog,” Ramaphosa added. “Screaming and shouting is not going to bring an end to this conflict.”

Ramaphosa’s African National Congress party, which has governed South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994, had strong ties to the former Soviet Union, which trained and supported anti-apartheid activists during the Cold War.

For that reason, South Africa is sometimes eyed with suspicion among Russia’s rivals in the West, although it has still enjoyed a high level of diplomatic clout relative to its economic size since its peaceful transition to democracy.

South Africa’s historic refusal to take sides meant “some are even approaching us on a role that we can play (mediating),” Ramaphosa said on Thursday.

“We never want to pretend we have a great influence that other countries have, but we are being approached. (To) condemn one (side) … forecloses the role we could play,” he added.

A US national has been recorded among the dead in the aftermath of a Russian airstrike against the civilian population of Chernihiv, the city’s police chief Volodymyr Nidzelskyi reported via Facebook on Thursday afternoon.

According to available information, the strike killed and wounded multiple people, a US citizen among them.

An official in the Mariupol mayor’s office said on Thursday the city authorities did not yet have a casualty toll after what they said was a Russian bombardment of a theater in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

130 survivors were saved so far from the ruins of the theater, according to The Kyiv Independent, while rescue efforts are still underway. The theater housed hundreds of women and children. 

Russia’s defense ministry on Wednesday denied it had carried out an air strike against a theater there, according to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

At least one person was killed and three wounded after the remains of a downed missile hit a residential building in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the country’s emergency service said on Thursday.

At least 1 killed, 3 wounded as missile hits residential building in Kyiv, March 17, 2022 (credit: Anadolu Agency via Reuters)

The 16-story building was struck at 5:02 a.m. local time, it said in a statement, adding that 30 people have been evacuated so far and a fire has been put out. Air raids were sounded throughout the night in Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Kropyvnytsky, Dnipro, Sumy, Kharkiv, Cherkasy and Kryvuy Rig.

Russian casualties of the war so far amount to 14,000 personnel killed, 86 aircraft.108 helicopters, 444 tanks, 1433 armored vehicles of different types, 3 vessels, and 864 vehicles.

Many residents of the separatist Donetsk region are left without water due to shelling by Ukrainian Armed Forces (ZSU), according to Russian media. The report also states that last month, water supply in the city was reduced by 20%-25%. 

Su-25 attack aircraft of Russian Aerospace Forces had destroyed warehouses with ZSU weapons and ammunition of Ukrainian Armed Forces on Wednesday night, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Russian military aviation also destroyed a division of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems belonging to Ukrainian forces, according to Russian media citing Russian Defense Minister and Major-General Igor Konashenkov. 

A view shows a school building destroyed by an airstrike, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in the town of Merefa, in Kharkiv region Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 17, 2022. (credit: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS)

Another shelling hit an educational institution on Merefa in the Kharkiv region, the Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry stated on Thursday. The building was partially destroyed and ignited. Rescue service arrived at the scene shortly thereafter; no casualties were reported.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts, with Russian forces suffering heavy losses and making minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days, British military intelligence said on Thursday.

“Ukrainian resistance remains staunch and well-coordinated,” the British Defense Ministry said. “The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands.”

Russia’s armed forces hit a military depot in the Rivne region of western Ukraine on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday, citing the defense ministry.

High-precision missiles hit a depot in Sarny, Rivne region, destroying storage facilities for missiles and ammunition, the ministry said.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Thursday that Ukraine was purposefully preparing for a massacre in Donbas after alleged encouragement by the US and other Western nations. He also claimed that these plans were stopped by Russian Armed Forces.

Melitopol mayor abduction 

Ukraine handed over nine captured Russian soldiers to secure the freedom of the mayor of the city of Melitopol, who was detained last week, the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted a senior official as saying on Wednesday.

Zelensky’s office said earlier that Mayor Ivan Fedorov had been released but gave no details.

 Firefighters work at residential buildings damaged by shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on March 16, 2022.  (credit: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS) Firefighters work at residential buildings damaged by shelling, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on March 16, 2022. (credit: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS)

“Ivan Fedorov was released from Russian captivity… [in exchange] for him, Russia received nine captured soldiers who were born in 2002 and 2003. These are actually children,” Interfax Ukraine quoted the president’s press aide Darya Zarivnaya as saying.

Ukraine had said Fedorov was kidnapped last Friday by Russian forces. 

 Russia's invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv (credit: REUTERS) Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv (credit: REUTERS)

Casualties

Zelensky said that at least 103 children have been killed since the war began in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday night.

American intelligence sources estimated that Russia has lost over 7,000 soldiers in the war so far, according to The Kyiv Independent.

Refugees

About 13 buses with approximately 300 refugees from Mariupol arrived at the Russian border in the Rostov-on-Don
region, Russian media reported on Thursday. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted the same day that more than three million Ukrainians have fled the country, and demanded that Russia stop the invasion.

Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians through nine “humanitarian corridors” on Thursday from cities including the encircled port city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

About 4,500 Ukrainian refugees have been registered in Spain since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, but the real number is much higher, Spain’s Migration Minister Jose Luis Escriva said on Thursday.

“It is difficult to know the real number of refugees because many go directly to their families here in Spain without registering with the authorities,” the minister said.

The majority of European countries have offered to take in refugees in the past weeks to help alleviate the pressure on Ukraine’s neighbors as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues.

Poland has taken in more than 1.8 million Ukrainians so far while Romania and Moldova have registered 435,432 and 337,215, respectively, following the invasion.

Sanctions

Canada closed its skies to planes from Belarus on Wednesday night.

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