The venue was important. Some 40 countries joined this month’s meeting in the Red Sea port of Jeddah to discuss a set of common principles to end the war in Ukraine.
China and neutral countries, including developing world powerhouses: Brazil, India, and South Africa, attended. They would have felt uneasy about coming to a country that actively supports Ukraine. Saudi Arabia strives for good relations with the US and China while maintaining open lines with Russia.
Although Moscow was not invited, Riyadh made sure that Kremlin would not see the summit as a belligerent anti-Russia effort. “Any attempt to promote a peaceful settlement deserves a positive evaluation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Although China’s participation did not represent a move to break its partnership with Russia, it was a sign that Beijing wants to increase its global presence and relevance. Beijing knows that Ukraine and the pro-Ukraine coalition would see its participation as positive. It also is cultivating relations with the oil-rich Saudis.
Like many countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has carried out a balancing act, giving financial aid to Ukraine even while keeping strong ties to Russia. In May, the kingdom hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at an Arab summit also in Jeddah.
The Jeddah talks engaged a number of players from the “Global South.” While they believe neutrality serves them best, it is impossible for them to stay out of the fray. Russia last month halted its participation in a United Nations-brokered grain deal that enabled the shipment of Ukrainian produce through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the conference by video and welcomed the wide range of countries represented. “This is very important because, on issues such as food security, the fate of millions of people in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world directly depends on how fast the world moves to implement the peace formula,” he said.
It was a good moment to test ideas about a possible settlement. The massive war has been running for a year and a half. While the warring parties still intend to achieve their aims by military means, the intention in Jeddah is to get ready for an opening.
Russia’s campaign in Ukraine has gone sideways. Moscow is trying to salvage what it can, to keep as much as possible of its territorial gain in Ukraine. Although Russia can sustain its war effort for quite some time – the nature of its regime there means no consideration exists for the number of killed and wounded – Moscow’s war machine is exhausted.
Ukraine shows no sign of quitting. Kyiv will continue its efforts to liberate all of its currently occupied lands. Ukraine’s war effort is anchored in the heroism of the military, the resilience of society, and financial and military assistance from abroad. All of these elements remain present.
But if the Ukrainian offensive continues on its present course – tactical advances at a huge cost – Kyiv may be forced to rethink. Although Ukrainians universally oppose a shaky ceasefire with the untrustworthy aggressive enemy, Ukraine might need its own pause, regrouping, rotating, ad obtaining additional Western arms.
The upshot? Both sides need to prepare for a stalemate. This moment may not come. But logic dictates preparing for it just in case.
In Jeddah, the peace summit produced no final statement. This absence undermines the meeting’s value. Even so, officials said the mere mention of respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty must be seen as a positive outcome for Ukraine. The Saudis vow to present a plan for further talks, with working groups to discuss issues such as global food security, nuclear safety, and prisoner releases.
No one should be under the illusion that this war’s outcome will be decided anywhere except on the battlefield. But Ukraine must prove itself open to multilateral peace efforts. At Jeddah, it did so.
Volodymyr Dubovyk is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations and Director at the Center for International Studies at the Mechnikov National University In Odessa.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.