In Saudi, for Ukraine

Countries really take interest in those international questions and issues which directly impact them
In Saudi, for Ukraine
GK Photo

Saudi Arabia convened a meeting of the National Security Advisors of around forty countries on August 5-6 in Jeddah. The purpose of the gathering was to explore issues relating to a resolution of the Ukraine conflict. Media reports quoted the Saudi Press Agency as stating that Saudi Arabia “looks forward that this meeting contributes to reinforcing dialogue and cooperation through deliberations at the international level on the ways to ensure a solution for the crisis through political and diplomatic means and in a way that strengthens international peace and security, sparing the world further humanitarian, security and economic repercussions of the crisis”.

Doubtless the international community which has been adversely impacted by the crisis would completely agree with the noble objective set out in the Saudi statement. This is despite Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war which has led to continuing Yemeni suffering. The difference between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and Saudi moves in Yemen under the Kingdom’s effective ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is that the former’s impact has been worldwide, in one form or another, while the latter’s negative repercussions have been limited almost exclusively to the Yemeni people. Thus, the inescapable conclusion is that countries really take interest in those international questions and issues which directly impact them. Yes, pious statements on the need for global justice and equity are routinely made by political leaders and diplomats but realism demands that they be refracted through the prism of the self-interest of the concerned state.

Among the forty countries invited by Saudi Arabia were the United States and China, important European Union countries and of the Global South. India is a major power now and currently holds the rotational presidency of the G20, of which Saudi Arabia is a member. It was thus naturally invited and National Security Ajit Doval went to the Jeddah meeting. Significantly, while the Saudis invited Ukraine, they did not extend an invitation to Russia.

The US would have urged the Saudis to ignore Russia. It is noteworthy though that the Chinese attended the meeting even though their firm ‘friend’ Russia was not invited. In view of the role China played in bringing about a thaw between Iran and Saudi Arabia it may have been difficult for the Saudis to brush aside China if it had asked them to have Russia also in the meeting. The implications of the Chinese approach are clear. They wish to project that they are not so much aligned with Russia that they are willing to do so at the cost of their interests in the Global South and elsewhere too.

In this context it is noteworthy that Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi conversed with each other over the telephone on August 7. The Russian readout of the call concluded thus “The meeting between the ministers once again confirmed that Moscow and Beijing have identical or largely concurring approaches towards international affairs. They reaffirmed their commitment to maintain close foreign policy coordination”. Meanwhile, according to media reports the Chinese spokesperson said on the Ukraine crisis that “China will uphold an independent and impartial position, sound and objective and rational voice, actively promote peace talks, and strive to seek a political solution on any international multilateral occasion”. The diversion in the Russian and Chinese versions of the call are clear.

The real question concerning the Ukraine crisis is if a situation is coming about where the US and Chinese interests are converging in wishing to end the crisis? Till now it has seemed that US and Chinese interests are fundamentally misaligned because of China giving Russia almost a carte blanche in respect of any part of their relationship. There is little doubt that they would an on-going behind-the-scenes dialogue taking place between the US and China on the Ukraine crisis. Are the two reaching a conclusion on what can be the contours of an arrangement to diffuse it and end hostilities? This can be notwithstanding the US’s basic adversarial attitude towards China.

Even if China and the US have concluded that Russia and Ukraine have to be pushed in the direction of a viable compromise the question is if one can be found which either country can live with. At this time, that hardly seems feasible because of the extreme positions taken by Moscow and Kiev. However, Putin and Zelenskyy both know that behind their principled and rousing rhetoric to their peoples and the global community both countries are paying a great price. Clearly, the war has not gone entirely Putin’s way and despite all the military help given by NATO to Ukraine is impossible to conceive that its forces can push Russia out of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory. But, as of now both sides are holding on to their rigid positions.

While Ukraine was happy with the Jeddah meeting Russia rejected it. Alexey Zietsev, a spokesperson of Russia’s foreign ministry said on August 9 about the Jeddah meeting “Such events on issues related to this crisis provide no added value without Russia’s participation and consideration of its interests. It is worth noting that the countries of the Global South were in the minority in the meeting in Jeddah”. This comment is as much a signal to China as to other members of the international community.

In his comments Doval reiterated India’s position on the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and for negotiations to end the crisis. This is fine but India’s main current diplomatic preoccupation is to forge a common position on the Ukraine crisis for the Delhi G20 summit statement. That will be very difficult.

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