How Saudi Arabia’s mediation efforts heap pressure on Russia

COMMENT – Riyadh-hosted talks on Ukraine highlight growing clout of major emerging nations

TOKYO — One and a half years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine is struggling to achieve its goals in the much-vaunted counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces along the front line are having a hard time punching through resilient enemy lines.

Yet recent peace talks in Saudi Arabia, held among senior officials from about 40 economies, offered a ray of hope for achieving a cease-fire.

The talks followed the first such meeting hosted by Denmark in Copenhagen in June. In response to Saudi Arabia’s invitations, national security advisers and other officials of some 40 countries and regions, including the Group of Seven major industrial nations as well as emerging and developing countries, gathered in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia has friendly ties with Russia, a fellow oil producer, and maintains a neutral position in the Ukraine war. A far cry from a democracy, the monarchy is often criticized for its dismal human rights records.

Many pundits were skeptical about the peace talks hosted by the country. But the conference proved unexpectedly productive, though no concrete blueprint for peace has been hashed out.

The number of participants itself was a great achievement as the previous talks in Denmark attracted only a dozen or so countries and regions. China’s presence this time also made a big difference. Beijing, Moscow’s principal ally, declined an invitation to the previous talks, apparently out of concern for damaging ties with Russia.

Saudi Arabia strongly urged China to attend the conference through behind-the-scenes lobbying, a Western diplomat familiar with the matter said. Riyadh tried its best to make the forum attractive to Beijing by taking some unusual steps. For example, while representatives of all other nations were seated in alphabetical order, China was given a place next to the chair.

Saudi Arabia invited Ukraine but not Russia. Irked by the move, Moscow blasted the talks. “No meetings on the Ukraine crisis add any value without Russia’s participation or regard for its interests,” said Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry.


Read the entire comment written by Hiroyuki Akita on NikkeiAsia.