Saudi Arabia has kicked off a weekend summit in Jeddah, in which senior officials from some 40 countries – but not Russia – will aim to draft key principles on how to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday welcomed the wide range of countries represented in the talks that began on Saturday, including developing countries hit hard by the surge in food prices triggered by the war.
“This is very important because, on issues such as food security, the fate of millions of people in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world directly depends on how fast the world moves to implement the peace formula,” he said.
Russia last month halted its participation in a United Nations-brokered grain deal that enabled the shipment of Ukrainian produce through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.
Zelenskyy said he hoped the initiative will lead to a “peace summit” of world leaders this autumn to endorse the principles, which he believed should be based on Kyiv’s 10-point formula for a settlement.
Ukraine’s formula includes respect for its territorial integrity and the withdrawal of Russian troops from territories that Moscow claims to have annexed.
The forum excludes Russia, which has rejected Ukraine’s peace formula. The Kremlin said it will “keep an eye” on the meeting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week that Russia would “need to understand what goals are set and what will be discussed”.
“Any attempt to promote a peaceful settlement deserves a positive evaluation,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Kyiv, said the summit was important for Ukraine as it presented an opportunity to reach out to nations that have remained neutral, including India and Brazil.
Especially significant was the attendance of China, a staunch Russian ally. “What Ukraine really hopes is that China will endorse Zelenskyy’s peace plan,” Vaessen added.
China, which says it is a neutral party in the conflict but has been criticised by Western capitals for refusing to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, announced on Friday it would participate in the Jeddah talks by sending Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui.
“We have many disagreements and we have heard different positions, but it is important that our principles are shared,” he said.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese ministry, said in a statement that: “China is willing to work with the international community to continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine.”
Beijing and Moscow have repeatedly spoken of their strong relations since presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin announced a “no limits” partnership in February 2022, when Putin visited Beijing.
However, China’s embassy in Russia on Friday criticised the treatment of five Chinese citizens who were refused entry into Russia, calling the incident inconsistent with the overall friendly relations between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia said the weekend talks underscored Riyadh’s “readiness to exert its good offices to contribute to reaching a solution that will result in permanent peace,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter which works closely with Russia on oil policy, has touted its ties to both Moscow and Kyiv and positioned itself as a possible mediator in the war.
The SPA report said the kingdom anticipated the meeting would reinforce “dialogue and cooperation … to ensure a solution for the crisis through political and diplomatic means”.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, was isolated following the 2018 slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But the energy crisis produced by the Ukraine war elevated Saudi Arabia’s global importance, helping to facilitate his rehabilitation.
Saudi Arabia has backed UN Security Council resolutions denouncing Russia’s invasion as well as its unilateral annexation of territory in eastern Ukraine.
The meeting follows Ukraine-organised talks in Copenhagen in June that were designed to be informal and did not yield an official statement.
In May, the kingdom hosted Zelenskyy at an Arab League summit in Jeddah, where the Ukrainian president accused some Arab leaders of turning “a blind eye” to the horrors of Russia’s invasion.