Saudi peace talks put Ukraine territorial integrity at the core of any deal with Russia

Saudi peace talks put Ukraine territorial integrity at the core of any deal with Russia
The meeting in Jeddah concluded that Ukraine's territorial integrity must be restored in any peace deal. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin August 6, 2023

Talks between senior officials from around 40 countries in Jeddah on August 6  agreed that Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be at the heart of any peace deal with Russia to end the war.

Representatives from countries including the US, China, and India gathered in Saudi Arabia for talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to Russia's war in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended the meeting but Russia was not invited.

In what appears to be a blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the meeting backed a peace plan blueprint that would in effect call for Russian troops to withdraw from all of Ukraine’s territory as part of a peace deal. However, the results of the meeting are non-binding and will have no practical effect on ending the war for the meantime.

The participants of the meeting in Saudi Arabia regarding the settlement of the war in Ukraine reached an agreement on respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and this should be at the centre of any peace agreement, Italy’s Corriere della Sera reported.

The Kremlin has been adamant that it will not withdraw and intends to hang onto both the Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and more recently the four Ukraine regions -- Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson -- that were annexed last September in another iffy referendum.

The Kremlin has been trying to build a BRICS+ bloc of non-aligned countries to counter the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine last February. Three out of five of the BRICS countries attended – Brazil, India and South Africa – as well as other important countries in the global south that are members of the wider but unformal BRICS+ countries such as Indonesia, Mexico, Zambia and Egypt.

These countries have refused to participate in the West sanctions, but they have also been at efforts to keep some distance from Russia and maintain at least cordial relations with the West, afraid of attracting secondary sanctions.

This two-day meeting is part of Ukraine's diplomatic efforts to garner support beyond its core Western allies and engage with Global South countries that have been hesitant to take sides in the conflict, which has had global economic implications.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hoped to agree on principles during this meeting for a global leaders' summit on the issue in the autumn. He emphasised the importance of holding bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Jeddah meeting, acknowledging the lack of unity amongst the BRICS+ countries, but emphasising the need for the restoration of the rules-based international order.

Zelenskiy said that a peace was important as millions of people rely on Ukraine for food. Since Russia’s withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative on July 17 another food crisis is looming.

“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 did not participate in the talks, but the Kremlin said that it was monitoring the discussions. At present, there is no prospect of direct peace talks between Ukraine and Russia as the conflict continues.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the world's top oil exporter and works closely with Russia as part of the OPEC+ cartel to control oil prices. More recently it has become more active on the global stage as the conflict between Russia and the West has remade relations around the world between the developed and developing world. KSA has played a role in convening countries that were not part of previous meetings.

China, which did not attend a previous round of talks in Copenhagen in June, sent its Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui to the Jeddah meeting. India's National Security Adviser Shri Ajit Doval also joined the talks. Both China and India have maintained close ties with Russia and have refrained from condemning Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

The meeting saw positive discussions, but no joint statement was issued, indicating the lack of unity amongst the BRICS+ countries. The Saudis are expected to present a plan for further talks, focusing on various issues such as global food security, nuclear safety, and prisoner releases.

Saudi Arabia's diplomacy has been crucial in securing China's presence at the talks. 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.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's (MbS) leadership, the kingdom has sought a bigger role in the region and has become much closer to Russia in recent years, as well as expanding its ties with other major powers beyond its traditional relationship with the US.

In May, KSA hosted an Arab League summit in Jeddah, which the Ukrainian president attended but accused some Arab leaders of turning “a blind eye” to the horrors of Russia’s invasion.

KSA has worked with Moscow on oil market policies and helped mediate a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia. It has also strengthened ties with China, with President Xi Jinping's visit to Riyadh in December and efforts to join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as the New Development Bank, otherwise known as the BRICS bank.

While China's attendance indicates a willingness to listen and discuss, it does not guarantee agreement with the results sought by Ukraine and its allies. China entered the diplomatic fray on the anniversary of the start of the war with a 12-point peace plan proposal and is trying to position itself as a neutral arbitrator, but Kyiv rejected it, saying that Ukraine has its own plan.

China says it is a neutral party in the conflict and highlighted there is little unity amongst the non-aligned nations on how to end the war. “We have many disagreements and we have heard different positions, but it is important that our principles are shared,” China’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui said.

China said it was in support of a third round of peace proposal talks later this year, backing up Zelenskiy call for a peace summit of world leaders this autumn. An EU source said China “participated actively and was positive about idea of a third meeting at this level” The Guardian reported. The official said there was agreement that working groups would be set up to develop details of key themes prominent in Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace formula while a parallel ambassadors group would continue technical work on the issues.

Nonetheless, China's participation is seen as a boost to Saudi Arabian diplomacy and their convening power in engaging major global players in resolving the Ukraine crisis.

Zelenskiy said he hoped the Jeddah talks will lead to a “peace summit” of world leaders this autumn to endorse the principles agreed at the meeting, which he believed should be based on Kyiv’s 10-point formula for a settlement, which has as its main point the complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory, including the Crimea.

“Today in the talks, Kyiv insisted that major developing states accept the Zelensky peace plan, which is based on the requirement that peace begin only after the complete withdrawal of Russian troops. Kyiv no longer insisted on the adoption of the peace plan, and other states did not insist that Ukraine abandon it,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

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.

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, led Washington’s delegation to the Saudi city, a senior White House official said, but no official statement or readout has yet emerged.