Saudi Arabia’s Initiative To Hold Peace Summit On Ukraine War Builds Consensus Among Major Powers On Working For Peace


By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI—A diplomatic initiative taken by Saudi Arabia to hold a peace summit in Jeddah last week to explore resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war has generated hopes for an early end to the conflict and built a consensus among major powers on working for durable peace. Though Russia did not attend the Jeddah conference, as many as 42 nations, including India, participated in it.

The stature of Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister and de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has increased after the summit, as he has emerged stronger diplomatically with his efforts to establish himself as a global political player and a mediator in international crises and conflicts. The two-day summit was part of an initiative to draw the world’s attention to the conflict, in which the U.S. and European countries have been supporting Ukraine.

Though there was no breakthrough in the summit, several diplomatic developments took place after the conference for finding a way to end the war. The main goal of Ukraine and its Western partners was to build consensus among major powers, especially in the Global South, on working towards peace. According to the diplomats who attended the summit, there was a broad acceptance about respecting the central pillars of international law such as Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

With China’s participation, along with India and South Africa, all of which maintain good ties with Russia despite the war, global efforts towards peace have gained much more seriousness. China had earlier issued a position paper on the war calling for a political settlement, while also backing Russia’s security concerns. The concerned parties appeared to be more pragmatic and wanted China and India to play a bigger and constructive role in convincing Russia to take the path of talks.

Europe and the U.S. have pushed forward Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to the leadership role on the Ukraine war for a number of reasons. They hope to involve Saudi Arabia more closely in the Western alliance for Ukraine and to get clear statements from Riyadh condemning Russian aggression. They can also see that Saudi Arabia represents an indirect point of access to Russia, and is a candidate for the role of mediator for that reason.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been cultivating its relationships with Russia, most likely in the knowledge that as the U.S. slowly withdraws from the Middle East, it has to look beyond the U.S. in terms of security policy. As the U.S., Russia and China have been in a strained relationship for quite some time, Saudia Arabia has fully availed of the opportunity to take on the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

However, the meeting in Jeddah was much more than just a public relations exercise of Saudi Arabia. It showed a recognition that although the war is taking place in Europe and on the borders of NATO, the negotiations for ending the conflict require a more global involvement. Since there was a decision to continue after the summit, it became clear that the search for an end to the war in Ukraine had to be conducted on an extended and global scale.

Eighteen months after the war began, it is now evident that it has no military solution. Russia has made some advances since last year’s humiliating retreat from Kherson and Kharkiv, but is still far from meeting its objectives, and is struggling to cope with the war’s effects, ranging from political and economic stability to security issues. Ukraine’s much-awaited counter-offensive which started with advanced western weapons and training, has not achieved any major breakthrough.

While Ukraine has shown its capability to strike deep inside Russia with drones, Moscow keeps bombing Ukrainian cities and ports. Strangely, the stalemate has not pushed either side towards talks. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace plan, Russia has to withdraw from all occupied territories for talks to begin. On the other hand, Moscow demands recognition of the annexed Ukrainian territories, including regions its military does not control.

The summit was important for Ukraine as it presented an opportunity to reach out to the countries which have remained neutral, including India and Brazil. China’s attendance was also significant, as it is a staunch Russian ally, and Ukraine hopes that China will endorse Zelensky’s peace plan.

India was represented in the summit by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. Doval emphasised that the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity by all states must be upheld without exception and said that efforts must be made to resolve the conflict. US NSA Jake Sullivan and China’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui were also present.

Doval said the key question that needed to be addressed in the meeting was whether a solution acceptable to all relevant stakeholders could be found. Peace efforts involving all stakeholders must be pursued to find a just and enduring solution. India’s approach has been and always will be to promote dialogue and diplomacy, Doval told the delegates.

New Delhi is providing both humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and economic assistance to its neighbours in the Global South. India has engaged both Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict at the highest levels. Doval said India would remain an active and willing partner to find a lasting and comprehensive solution, and nothing will give India more happiness and satisfaction than such an outcome.

Doval’s participation in the peace conference on Ukraine showed India’s willingness to step up efforts to end the war.  As chair of G20, New Delhi is also keen to have a consensus document at the leaders’ summit in New Delhi next month.

Russia has criticised the conference and described as a futile attempt by the West to rally support for Kyiv among countries of the Global South. But the balanced composition of the participants, including both ardent Western supporters of Ukraine as well as nations that have adopted a neutral stance, was important.

Russia, which was kept informed of developments during the summit, has rejected Ukraine’s peace formula. Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia would need to understand what goals are set and what will be discussed. As for India, it has so far turned down Zelenskyy’s requests to address the G-20 summit, but has stepped up diplomatic engagement with Kyiv in the last few weeks.

The international community can make a difference and push Russia and Ukraine towards talks. It can also work with Russia and Ukraine to build an agenda for future talks. The coming together of Ukraine’s western backers, neutral developing powers and Russia’s close partners in Jeddah could be the first step in building this consensus.


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