Saudi dives into Ukraine peace push with Jeddah talks

Published August 6, 2023
This handout picture provided by the official Saudi Press Agency SPA, shows Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky greeting Saudi officials next to the Deputy Emir of Mecca, Prince Badr bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz (R), in Jeddah where the former arrived on May 19, 2023 to participate in the Arab League Summit. — AFP
This handout picture provided by the official Saudi Press Agency SPA, shows Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky greeting Saudi officials next to the Deputy Emir of Mecca, Prince Badr bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz (R), in Jeddah where the former arrived on May 19, 2023 to participate in the Arab League Summit. — AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is hosting talks on the Ukraine war on Saturday in the latest flexing of its diplomatic muscle, a session that Kyiv acknowledged would “not be easy” given the wide range of countries represented.

The meeting, which Ukrainian organisers had said would include representatives from around 40 countries but not Russia, began on Saturday in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, participants said.

Agenda of the session features three hours of statements from various delegations before a two-hour closed discussion and a dinner.

“I predict that the conversation will not be easy, but the truth is on our side,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said in an interview broadcast earlier.

“We have many disagreements and we have heard many positions, but it is important that we share our principles,” added Yermak, who also heads Kyiv’s delegation to Jeddah.

“Our task is to unite the whole world around Ukraine.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 last year, failing in its attempt to take the capital but seizing swathes of eastern territory that Western-backed Ukrainian troops are fighting to recapture.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said this week that the meeting would focus on his 10-point peace formula that calls for the full withdrawal of Russian troops and restoration of Ukraine’s borders, including the territory of Crimea, annexed by Russia since 2014.

However, Russia has in the past made it clear that any negotiations would need to take into account “new territorial realities”.

Bringing in BRICS

The Jeddah meeting follows talks in Copenhagen in June that were designed to be informal and did not yield an official statement.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is leading Washington’s delegation to the Saudi city, a senior White House official said.

While Washington does not expect a major breakthrough or joint statements to come out of Saturday’s session, diplomats instead said the Ukraine-organised meetings were intended to engage a range of countries in debates about a path towards peace — notably members of the BRICS bloc with Russia that have adopted a more neutral stance on the war in contrast to Western powers.

China, which says it is a neutral party in the conflict but has been criticised by Western countries for refusing to condemn Russia, announced it would send its special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, to the meeting.

The meeting highlights Saudi Arabia’s “readiness to exert its good offices to contribute to reaching a solution that will result in permanent peace”, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The world’s biggest crude exporter which works closely with Russia on oil policy, Riyadh has touted its ties to both sides and positioned itself as a possible mediator in the war.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2023

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