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PoliticsSaudi Arabia

Russia left out of Saudi peace talks on Ukraine

August 4, 2023

Saudi Arabia is hosting peace talks about Ukraine in the city of Jeddah this weekend. Representatives from about 30 countries will attend, but Russia won't be there.

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Mohammed bin Salman and Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands
Mohammed bin Salman and Volodymyr Zelenskyy met in MayImage: SPA/dpa/picture alliance

Officials from about 30 countries have been invited to participate in peace talks for Ukraine in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on August 5 and 6.

They include three-fifths of the BRICS countries — Brazil, India and South Africa — as well as other nations in the Global South, such as Indonesia, Mexico, Zambia and Egypt. The governments of the United Kingdom and Poland, as well as representatives of the European Union have also confirmed their attendance. It is unclear whether China will attend. Russia has not been invited.

"The initiative comes at a time when Saudi Arabia wants to position itself as a driving force for talks and conflict resolution," said Simon Engelkes, a Middle East policy adviser at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Traditionally, Saudi Arabia has always been an ally of the West, above all of the United States, but the country also maintains good relations with China, as well as with Russia, although there have been tensions recently within the framework of the expanded oil cartel OPEC+ after the Kremlin did not adhere to the agreed reduction in oil production.

For some time now, Saudi relations with the West have also been more strained, in view of the war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is involved, and the human rights situation in the country, which is an absolute monarchy. The 2018 assassination of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — which the West suspects Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering — has done lasting damage to the royal family's reputation.

Since Saudi Arabia has so far benefited from sanctions against Russia and the resulting rise in oil prices, the talks on the war in Ukraine might be a matter of prestige more than anything else.

"The crown prince wants to strengthen the kingdom's diplomatic role as a regional power," Engelkes said. "This is reflected in a variety of attempts at rapprochement, with which he is also trying to ease tensions with archenemy Iran, as well as in Yemen."

A Ukrainian soldierson the front near Bakhmut covers his ears
Ukrainian soldier on the front near BakhmutImage: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

'Support for Ukraine'

Nobody expects a real breakthrough toward achieving a peace deal for Ukraine — all the less so considering the fact that Russia will not even be at the table. Furthermore, many of the governments attending have condemned the violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity but have failed to take a clear stance against Russia, such as by taking part in sanctions.

Engelkes sees the participation of such governments as a sign that they, too, want an end to the conflict which, in addition to its effects on Ukraine and Russia, is particularly damaging to the Global South.

"The fact that President Zelenskyy's 10-point peace plan will now be the basis for the talks in Jeddah can certainly be seen as a sign of support for Ukraine," Engelkes said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Mohammed bin Salman visited France in JuneImage: Abd Rabbo Ammar/ABACA/picture alliance

Sebastian Sons from Germany's Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient told the public broadcaster ZDF that, from the Saudi point of view, the war in Ukraine is an internal European conflict. He said there was little understanding for the measures against Russia, especially given that Saudi officials feel "abandoned" in the country's conflict with Iran.

"This different way of dealing with conflicts is perceived as a double standard," Sons said.

Engelkes said the talks reflected Saudi efforts toward pragmatic economic and security policy, as well as the "conviction that the competition of systems often proclaimed here [in Germany] is not the responsibility and challenge of other world regions." He said the significant representation from the Global South would contrast with the more simplistic "Russia alone against the West" narrative.

This article was originally written in German.

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DW-Redakteur Jan D. Walter Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Jan D. Walter Editor and reporter for national and international politics and member of DW's fact-checking team.