Senior officials from around 40 countries, including major powers like the United States, China, and India, gathered in Saudi Arabia for talks on Saturday. The meetings aimed to lay the groundwork for a peaceful end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The two-day diplomatic initiative led by Ukraine seeks to gain support from Global South countries that have been reluctant to take sides in the conflict. The hope is to reach an agreement on key principles that will pave the way for a global leaders’ summit on the issue in the coming months.
Building Consensus and Bilateral Talks
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized the importance of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Jeddah meeting. He acknowledged the existing differences among the attending nations but stressed the need to restore the rules-based international order. Zelenskyy pointed out that while countries may have differing political approaches and belong to different continents, a shared priority for all is upholding international law. Notably, Russia did not attend the meetings, but Ukrainian, Russian, and international officials have confirmed the current absence of prospects for direct peace talks between Ukraine and Russia due to the ongoing conflict.
The Role of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, played a significant role in convening this meeting, drawing countries that did not participate in previous rounds of talks. The kingdom, which has maintained contacts with both Ukraine and Russia since the conflict’s onset, has been actively working towards expanding its role on the world stage. Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has sought to broaden its ties with major powers beyond its traditional relationship with the United States. The kingdom has collaborated with Moscow on oil market policies in recent years and has played a mediating role alongside Turkey in facilitating a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia. Saudi Arabia’s growing relationship with China has also been evident, as it warmly welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Riyadh in December. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has sought to join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, indicating the kingdom’s increasing alignment with China in certain areas of regional geopolitics.
It is worth noting that the talks in Saudi Arabia have gained traction and support due to the presence of China. China’s attendance signifies a signal of support for Saudi Arabian diplomacy and reinforces other areas of recent Chinese-Saudi cooperation. Chinese participation in the talks is seen as a boost to Saudi Arabia’s narrative of convening power and the ability to leverage relationships, which is perceived as qualitatively different from Western parties. However, it remains uncertain if China’s presence indicates ultimate agreement with the desired outcomes sought by Ukraine and its allies. Experts suggest that participation in the meeting suggests willingness to listen and discuss, but does not guarantee agreement with the final results.
The international talks held in Saudi Arabia mark a significant diplomatic effort by Ukraine to garner support beyond its core Western allies. By engaging Global South countries, Ukraine aims to build consensus on key principles for a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine-Russia war. While challenges and differences among participating nations exist, the overarching goal is the restoration of the rules-based international order and the respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. The presence of China and India, along with other leading powers, adds weight to the discussions. Saudi Arabia, as the host nation and facilitator of these talks, has demonstrated its increasing diplomatic clout and ability to convene diverse nations. The outcomes of these discussions will shape the future trajectory of the conflict and potentially pave the way for a global summit. However, the road to a peaceful resolution remains uncertain, as the complexities and divergent interests involved make it challenging to find a consensus among the participating nations.