(EurActiv) — Ukraine and its allies aim to rally global support for a peace blueprint in talks hosted by Saudi Arabia this weekend, with Western officials increasingly optimistic that China will attend, lending the talks a new weight.
Ukrainian and Western diplomats hope the meeting in Jeddah of national security advisers and other senior officials from some 40 countries will agree on key principles for a future peace settlement to end Russia’s war in Ukraine. Moscow is not attending.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday (2 August) he hoped the initiative will lead to a “peace summit” of leaders from around the world this autumn to endorse the principles, based on his own 10-point formula for a peace settlement.
Ukrainian, Russian and international officials say there is no prospect of direct peace talks between Ukraine and Russia at the moment, as the war continues to rage and Kyiv seeks to reclaim territory through a counter-offensive.
Ukraine aims to build a bigger coalition of diplomatic support beyond its core Western backers, by reaching out to Global South countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa, many of which have remained publicly neutral.
“One of the main aims of this round of negotiations will be to finally fix a common understanding of what the 10 points are about,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskyy’s chief diplomatic adviser, told Reuters on Thursday.
The 10 points include calls for the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, withdrawal of Russian troops, protection of food and energy supplies, nuclear safety and the release of all prisoners.
The biggest diplomatic prize would be endorsement from China, which has maintained close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia and so far rejected international calls to condemn the invasion. China was invited to a previous round of talks in Copenhagen in late June but did not attend.
“Last time they didn’t reject participating out of hand: they said they couldn’t fit it into their schedule,” said a German government official. “This time we all repeated our outreach to Beijing…and we have certain positive signals.”
If China does decide to take part, it could do so either by sending envoys or by video link, officials said. Saudi diplomacy had played a key role in urging Beijing to attend, the German official said.
Zhovkva said China’s ambassador to Ukraine had attended meetings in Kyiv on the peace initiative and that Ukraine was working on having Chinese participation at Jeddah.
“The invitation is on the table,” he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not answer directly when asked by Reuters whether China would take part in the meeting.
“China is willing to work together with the international community to continue playing a constructive role in calming down the situation,” the ministry said.
In seeking to win over Global South countries, Western officials say they will stress that food prices have jumped since Russia quit a deal to allow safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea and carried out a string of air strikes on Ukraine’s ports.
“We’ll be for sure making this point and loud and clear,” the European Commission official said.
Saudi Arabia has not commented publicly on the weekend talks but Ukrainian and Western officials said the country’s decision to host the meeting reflected a desire by Riyadh to play a prominent diplomatic role in efforts to resolve the conflict.
Saudi Arabia, along with Turkey, played a mediation role in a major prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia last September.
Zelenskyy attended an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia in May this year, at which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed his readiness to mediate in the war
A second senior EU official said Saudi Arabia reached “into parts of the world where (Ukraine’s) classical allies would not get to as easily”.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to represent the United States at the talks.
“This is still the start of the process,” US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said on Wednesday. “Remember, there’s still active fighting in Ukraine.”
Asked about the talks earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia needed to understand their aims and what would be discussed.