Ukraine’s Zelenskiy visits Saudi, seeks Arab League support for his people

Published May 19, 2023
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, ahead of the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. — Reuters
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, ahead of the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. — Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended a summit of the Arab League in Saudi Arabia on Friday to canvas support for his people, while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed his readiness to mediate in the war between Moscow and Kyiv.

Also at the Jeddah gathering, Arab leaders warmly welcomed back into their fold Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad — who has received heavy support from Russia in his country’s civil war — following a decade of isolation.

“We reaffirm the kingdom’s readiness to continue mediating efforts between Russia and Ukraine, and to support all international efforts aimed at resolving the crisis politically in a way that contributes to achieving security,” the Saudi Crown Prince said in his opening speech.

Prince Mohammed has mediated in the conflict before.

Zelenskiy, who was also due to attend a summit of the G7 leaders in the Japanese city of Hiroshima this weekend, thanked Saudi Arabia for its past help and said delegates would each receive the text of his 10-point peace plan. He asked them to work with Ukraine directly without intermediaries.

Gulf states have tried to remain neutral in the Ukraine conflict despite Western pressure on Gulf oil producers to help isolate Russia, a fellow OPEC+ member.

Saving people

In his address to the summit, Zelenskiy said some countries including members of the Arab League preferred to “turn a blind eye” to Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian land and to its jailing of some Ukrainians during the 15-month war.

“I am sure we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons,” he said, speaking in English.

Last year, in a diplomatic coup, Crown Prince Mohammed secured the release of 10 foreigners captured by Russia in Ukraine. The move was apparently made possible by his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays a significant role and we are ready to take our cooperation to a new level,” Zelenskiy said wrote on Twitter shortly after arriving in Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia faced heavy criticism from the United States over an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, seen as helping Russia to refill its coffers by boosting prices.

Even though the October decision initially drew the ire of the United States and other Western countries, market dynamics since then have shown the cuts to be prudent.

At a time when Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global energy markets, the role the kingdom plays as the world’s largest oil exporter has grown in importance to both Washington and Moscow.

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