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President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in the kingdom where Arab leaders are holding a regional summit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to Saudi Arabia, where the Arab League hosts an annual summit.
Writing on Twitter on Friday, he said he was “starting my first-ever visit to Saudi Arabia to strengthen bilateral relations and Ukraine’s relations with the Arab world.”
He said he would discuss “political prisoners in Crimea and the temporarily occupied territories, the return of our people, and the formula for peace.” [and] cooperation in the field of energy.
Saudi Arabia “plays an important role, and we are ready to bring our cooperation to a new level,” Zelensky said.
The beginning of my first visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to strengthen bilateral relations and Ukraine’s relations with the Arab world. Political prisoners in Crimea and the temporarily occupied territories, the return of our people, the peace formula, energy cooperation. Saudi Arabia plays…
– Володимир Зеленський (ZelenskyyUa) May 19, 2023
Zelenskyy is walking on new ground
The Ukrainian president has visited a number of countries since Russia launched its all-out invasion of the country on February 204, 2022.
However, his visits were largely restricted to loyal allies, including several countries of the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. He will also travel to Japan at the weekend to attend the G7 meeting.
His visit to Saudi Arabia represents a clear deviation from this strategy as Ukraine looks to drum up support among countries that have resisted public condemnation of Russia’s actions.
Arab countries have remained largely neutral regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine, with many of them maintaining close relations with Moscow.
Saudi Arabia has maintained good relations with Russia and the two countries have cooperated on oil production cuts through OPEC+, the Saudi-led alliance of oil producers.
The Saudis even offered to mediate between Ukraine and Russia following the prisoner exchange they brokered last year.
Saudi Arabia also pledged $400 million in aid to Ukraine earlier this year and voted in favor of UN resolutions calling on Russia to end its invasion and refrain from annexing Ukrainian lands.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is heavily supported by Russia and was recently allowed to join the Arab League, is also present at the summit.
Assad has been shunned by the group since 2011 after a brutal crackdown on opposition protesters and the subsequent devastating war in Syria.
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