Zelenskyy in Saudi Arabia to push for peace, POW deal with Russia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to position himself as a potential mediator to end war between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport and is met by government officials [Saudi Press Agency via AP]Published On 27 Feb 202427 Feb 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has arrived in Saudi Arabia with plans to visit the kingdom’s powerful crown prince to push for an end to the invasion of Ukraine and the return of prisoners of war from Russia.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has sought to position himself as a potential mediator to end the war between Ukraine and Russia – even as Riyadh remains closely aligned with Russia on energy policies through the OPEC+ group of countries.

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Zelenskyy’s trip on Tuesday came as Kyiv’s forces are slowly being pushed back in eastern Ukraine. Russia has gained the initiative due to its big advantage in troop numbers and weapons supplies, military analysts say, as Kyiv waits for news of new provisions from its Western partners.

The Ukrainian military said Tuesday that it has withdrawn its forces from two more villages near Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region following intense overnight fighting, according to a Ukrainian army spokesman.

Ukrainian troops have pulled back from Sieverne and Stepove, Dmytro Lykhovyi said on national television. The two villages had a population of some 100 people in total before the full-scale invasion, he said.

Ukraine continues to “rely on Saudi Arabia’s ongoing active support” in pushing forward with what has been described as a “Peace Formula” to end the full-scale invasion, which marked its second anniversary over the weekend, Zelenskyy said in a message on X.

Zelenskyy has presented a 10-point peace formula that, among other things, seeks the expulsion of all Russian forces from Ukraine and accountability for war crimes – at a time when the two sides are fighting from largely static positions along a roughly 1,500km (930-mile) front line. Such ideas are rejected out of hand by Moscow.

“The second topic is the return of POWs and deportees,” Zelenskyy wrote. “The kingdom’s leadership has already contributed to the release of our people. I am confident that this meeting will also yield results.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is greeted by Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz, deputy governor of Riyadh, at King Khalid International Airport [Saudi Press Agency via AP]

The Ukrainian president didn’t elaborate, but said that economic cooperation also would be discussed.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said that Zelenskky arrived at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport and was met by government officials.

On Monday MBS also met with Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the SPA reported, adding that they had discussed ways to boost parliamentary cooperation and “developments of common concern”.

In recent years, MBS – the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia – has reached a detente with Iran, pursued a peace deal with Yemen’s Houthi rebels and also offered himself as a leader in other crises worldwide.

That is after facing widespread international condemnation for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence agencies believe was carried out on his orders – a claim MBS denies.

In May, Zelenskyy travelled to Saudi Arabia for a meeting of Arab leaders and also met then with MBS.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – all neighbours on the Arabian Peninsula – have been involved in prisoner exchanges since the war broke out in 2022.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies