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Saudi Arabia The old port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea, stewing in the steaming heat of the world’s hottest summer ever, is not the obvious choice to cool down the world’s fiercest conflict, currently raging in Ukraine.
Still, the desert kingdom’s king-in-waiting, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – MBS for short – believes he can help. Last fall, he had a role in the release of Western mercenaries captured by Russian forces while fighting in Ukraine. Now he is host a summit to discuss peace in the country.
Ukrainian officials say the venue is a boon for those “who are completely destroying the narrative of Russia,” that Ukraine is supported only by “countries of the collective West.” They expect as many as 40 nations to be represented, including the United States and India.
In the days leading up to the summit, the Ukrainians made their intentions clear. “Our goal in Saudi Arabia is to develop a unified vision for the formula and to find out the possibilities to hold the future Global Peace Summit,” they said, referring to Ukraine’s peace plan.
That Moscow will only “monitor” and not participate risks the summit becoming a desert snowflake, instantly stunning and inspiring, but blink and it’s gone.
Still, Ukrainian officials pin their hopes on “uniting the world around Ukraine.” The White House is sending national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
03:31 – Source: CNN
The Ukrainian presidency is ‘preparing’ for a peace summit in Saudi Arabia
US State Department officials are billing it as “Ukraine in the driver’s seat,” an opportunity to find a “potential diplomatic solution to the war” and for nations that would not otherwise hear directly from Kiev to speak face-to-face with Ukrainian officials.
The first session of this series was quietly organized by the Danes in June and brought together 15 nations, many from the global south, who are in varying degrees sympathetic to Putin’s argument that the war was “necessary”, that NATO forced him to invade Ukraine.
This summit made no major headlines, nor a noticeable drift to Ukraine’s precondition for peace that Russian troops leave Ukraine. So what’s different this time?
First, unlike Denmark, Saudi Arabia has not openly taken sides in the war. More significantly MBS has leverage. Like the roads that led to Rome in its day, Saudi Arabia is increasingly at the confluence of competing global interests.
President Biden came last July, Chinese President Xi visited a few months later. Both had business with MBS.
Biden was able to build on their joint diplomatic achievement, a peace agreement in Yemen a few months earlier. Xi talked business and signed memorandums of understanding worth billions of dollars, but unbeknownst to most, they were just a few months away from a seismic diplomatic breakthrough.
In the spring of this year, Saudi Arabia and China announced a confidence-building peace plan with Iran to repair their hostile relationship. So far it has worked. Iran’s proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have stopped attacking Saudi Arabia with Iranian-made ballistic missiles.
The two nations have reopened diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, and this fall is likely to expand their newfound cooperation to trade.
What MBS wants most is a stable oil market and stronger trade links throughout the Gulf. Disagreements alone in the region are dangerous. The war – between oil-rich, nuclear-armed Russia and Ukraine – could be catastrophic.
If he can tame that tiger, he better plan how to deliver his otherworldly and insane expensive visions of a future Saudi Arabia diversify away from oil and yet employ the country’s huge youth population.
His ambition is what drives him every day. In his ideal world, Saudi Arabia would be a dominant geopolitical player.
Part of Biden’s pitch to MBS when they met last year was: Don’t cut oil production, it hurts my citizens at the gas pumps at home, and by the way helps Russia finance its war in Ukraine by driving up oil prices.
So what did MBS do a few months later? Cut oil production. Saudi officials say they are reading the oil markets correctly and only changed production to suit their own “national interests”.
That point didn’t go down too well in Washington. Still, the cardinal law of diplomacy today would say that MBS has potential influence over Russia. If the Saudi potentate can raise oil prices, he can also lower them. Not to say he will, but he could, and Putin will know that too.
The kind of diplomacy MBS is engaged in is to recreate the role of the Gulf Arabs. Stakeholders with real influence, not the rivals from the throats of yesteryear.
It’s a work in progress, but he can see where he wants to go, and part of it involves one of the Middle East’s most difficult problems: the Saudi rapprochement with Israel.
On that, Saudi Arabian negotiations with the US are underway, and they reportedly include domestic energy nuclear power plants, F-35 fighter jets and security guarantees for the desert kingdom.
The US wants compromises from the Saudis and vice versa.
All this, of course, is far outside the scope of the peace summit in Jeddah and Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine. Still, it shows where there are many pieces in flux, a cornucopia of potential quid pro quos and growing possibilities for what can be achieved.
Not least, as Ukraine’s biggest backer, the US’s appreciation that Saudi stepped off the diplomatic sidelines to help Zelensky.
There are other areas beyond Iran where China and Saudi Arabia’s interests align, not least their mutual concerns about the risks to their economies of an untamed war escalating out of control on the edge of one of their biggest markets, Europe .
Without China’s financial support, Russia’s economy and its ability to wage war in Ukraine could crumble. To a lesser extent, some of the Global South nations that may be around the table in Jeddah also help support Putin’s war by buying gas, oil and other commodities he can no longer sell in Europe.
It is precisely these countries that the Ukrainians most want to impress with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace initiative in Jeddah. Although it was published last December, they believe it has been spoiled by Russian propaganda and hope to reverse the damage.
Only last week, Putin ignored his own illegal invasion and blamed Ukraine for a lack of peace, when representatives of the African Union at a Kremlin-sponsored Africa conference in St. Petersburg pressured him to seek a truce.
In a typical Kremlin inversion of logic and reality, he told them that “to start the process, an agreement is needed from both sides,” that “a ceasefire is difficult to implement when the Ukrainian army is on the offensive.”
Countering Putin’s revisionist lies is likely to keep Ukraine’s representatives in Jeddah extremely busy, and officials say they plan to meet individually and collectively with other delegates on “every point of the (10-point) Peace Formula.”