Salem Alketbi

Saudi Arabia’s astute and accomplished diplomacy

الأربعاء - 16 أغسطس 2023

Wed - 16 Aug 2023

Once again, the spotlight shines on the savvy and efficient international diplomacy of Saudi Arabia as the country hosted a round of talks on the Ukraine war on Saturday, August 5th. Despite Russia’s absence from the talks, there was a notable Russian acknowledgment and appreciation of Saudi efforts to find a resolution to the Ukraine crisis and put an end to the conflict that has posed a challenging quandary for countries worldwide.

Russia’s decision not to participate in the Jeddah talks and the preceding Copenhagen meeting to address the crisis stems from their principled stance, as Moscow tied demand for recognition of “new realities” on the ground, referring to Russia’s formal annexation of parts of Ukrainian territory.

In a diplomatic dance, the Russian stance, officially at least, embraces the Chinese and African initiatives as a “foundation for peace,” with President Putin reiterating on multiple occasions that his country remains open to talks concerning Ukraine.

As is customary, the Saudi diplomatic apparatus operates diligently and discreetly. It is evident that the Kingdom has been dedicated from the onset of the Ukraine conflict to collaborating with friendly and brotherly countries in search of viable resolutions to the crisis. This Saudi astuteness in handling a matter of high sensitivity could lay the groundwork for generating global momentum, propelling efforts to devise solutions and discover appropriate mechanisms to navigate this worldwide impasse.

The world is gradually edging towards a Russia-Atlantic conflict, potentially steering towards a third world war with catastrophic consequences whose boundaries remain unknown.

According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal, the talks in Jeddah extended invitations to Ukraine and Western countries, along with approximately 30 other countries, including India, Brazil, Britain, South Africa, Poland, the EU, the US, Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, and Zambia.

This move by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia opens the door wide for the first substantive international dialogue on the Ukraine conflict—a commendable step, particularly in light of the prevailing silence among concerned international entities. However, even international powers like China find themselves unable to engineer a true breakthrough in the crisis, hampered by Western suspicions surrounding China’s position. Several Western capitals view China as supportive of Russia and, at least politically, aligning with Moscow on this contentious matter.

Not to mention the concerns expressed by the US about the possibility of Beijing supplying Moscow with weapons and equipment to bolster the Russian army against the military aid provided to the Ukrainian army by countries from NATO.

Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical position on the world map qualifies it to assume a vital and influential role in resolving the Ukraine conflict, setting it apart from any other regional or international entity. This is owing to its remarkably close relations with both Russia and the US simultaneously, coupled with its highly balanced diplomatic stances since the onset of the Ukraine crisis. As a result, Saudi Arabia enjoys a deep reservoir of trust and reliability from all involved parties. Furthermore, the strategic weight of Saudi Arabia empowers it to rally international support and endorsement for any proposals arising from the Jeddah round of talks.

In my view, the Russian stance toward the peace process is intimately connected to the situation on the ground, with the Kremlin striving to achieve its pre-established objectives prior to the military operation. President Putin, drawing upon Russia’s extensive historical experience in handling such major crises, recognizes the challenging nature of negotiations, where both sides must make concessions to arrive at consensus-based solutions.

Consequently, ensuring the utmost gains becomes imperative to strengthen its negotiating position and alleviate pressures and potential concessions. The Ukrainian approach is guided by a similar strategy, albeit with a noticeable tactical retreat in the level of severity in Kyiv due to the ineffectiveness of the counteroffensive launched by Ukrainian forces for months, yielding limited tangible progress.

At a very opportune time, the Jeddah talks emerge, given the field situation, with clear evidence pointing to a deepening crisis among all involved parties, not just Russia and Ukraine. Moreover, a mounting international wave of anger arises due to the anticipated surge in global food prices stemming from the cancellation of the Ukrainian grain agreement and Russia’s subsequent withdrawal from it.

This development prompts regional and international powers to intensify their pressure, affording the host country, Saudi Arabia, the chance to mobilize international public opinion in support of pursuing a settlement for the Ukraine conflict and seeking expeditious solutions.

Evidently, the Kingdom has laid the groundwork for its role in the Ukraine crisis through a series of persistent and effective efforts over the past months. This includes successful mediation in the exchange of foreign prisoners in September last year, the hosting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Arab Summit in Jeddah, and the noteworthy visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to France. During this visit, he participated in the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in Paris on June 22nd and 23rd.

Additionally, the close communications and relations between Russian President Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, combined with the Kingdom’s economic and oil influence, position it well to manage any dialogue with the West. Moreover, its open communication channels with all international powers, such as China, India, the EU, and others, amplify the Saudi role’s capacity for action and impact in resolving the Ukraine conflict. This is especially true considering the Kingdom’s conviction and commitment to working towards bolstering international security and peace.

A reflection of the respect commanded by Saudi diplomacy, the growing international role of Saudi Arabia intelligently translates the Kingdom’s strength and standing under its leadership. This contributes to the overall security and stability of the Middle East region and, particularly, the Gulf.