Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to the G7 summit in Japan this weekend, where he’s expected to address world leaders in person, including of course pressing them for more weapons and other aid. He’ll travel there after his visit to Saudi Arabia.
On Friday he arrived in Jeddah – where oddly enough he’s attending the annual Arab League summit being hosted by the Saudis. As it turns out, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is attending the same meeting, a first in 12 years. Typically Zelensky courts European and Western governments, but Time explains the rationale for the stopover as follows:
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of an Arab summit on Friday, where he was set to address leaders who have remained largely neutral on Russia’s invasion of his country, including many who maintain warm ties with Moscow.
Among those in attendance is Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been welcomed back into the Arab fold 12 years after Syria was suspended at the start of its civil war. Russian air strikes on civilian areas brought devastation to both countries, but in Syria they helped Assad cling to power.
Zelensky imposed sanctions on Bashar al-Assad weeks ago. Today, they will seen at the Arab summit. pic.twitter.com/FuDdGdVUhA
— Spriter (@Spriter99880) May 19, 2023
Zelensky is meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman while in Jeddah, after which his plane departs for the G7 in Hiroshima.
He gave a formal address to the 22-member Arab League. One online commentator summarized what many in attendance must be thinking–
Zelensky came to Saudi Arabia to lecture the Arab League on Crimea and why they should not like Russia?…Why did they let them come and waste their time?
⚡️Among you there are those who turn a blind eye to the annexation of Crimea — Zelensky at the summit of the Arab League
Well Volodymyr, you turned a blind eye to the annexation of Palestine. pic.twitter.com/kHZ3tJfRWV
— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) May 19, 2023
The Ukrainian leader wants to push wealthy Arab Gulf nations to get off the fence regarding the Russian invasion:
- Wealthy Gulf countries have provided aid to Kyiv, but have also tried to take a more cautious approach to the war due to their ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Saudi Arabia, in particular, has attempted to position itself as a mediator. Last September, the Gulf kingdom and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman mediated a rare prisoner swap between Kyiv and Moscow, which included two U.S. veterans who had gone to Ukraine to help fight against Russia.
Indeed Arab states with significant trade and energy ties with Moscow are not going to risk Putin’s wrath, as the whole visit looks to be an exercise in regional leaders simply hearing Zelensky out.
Zelensky upon arriving in the kingdom tweeted that Saudi Arabia “plays a significant role and we are ready to take our cooperation to a new level,” and that he’ll present to Arab leaders the issues of “political prisoners in Crimea and temporarily occupied territories, the return of our people, Peace Formula, energy cooperation.”
Below are some excerpts of what Zelensky said at the Arab summit:
“Even if there are people here at the summit who have a different view on the war, on our land, calling it a conflict, I am sure that we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons. Unfortunately, there are some in the world, and here among you, who turn a blind eye to those cages and illegal annexations.”
“And I am here so that everyone can take an honest look, no matter how hard the Russians try to influence. There must still be independence. And I want to thank Saudi Arabia, I want to thank the majority of you, for supporting [inaudible] International positions and the UN Charter.”
Zelensky brought the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, with him on this trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“I am also sure all your nations will understand the main call I want to leave here in Jeddah, a noble call to all of you, to help protect our people, including Ukrainian Muslim community,” he said. “With me here is the Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, one of the indigenous peoples of Ukraine, whose home is Crimea, the center of Muslim culture in Ukraine.”
The Ukrainians are likely to have a more receptive audience at the G7, however, where Zelensky’s office stressed important decisions will be made. Likely he’ll continue pushing the need for Western fighter jets, as the possibility inches forward, as evidenced by Macron’s about-face on agreeing to train Ukrainian pilots announced this week.