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Zelensky says 'some' Arab leaders turn 'blind eye' to Russian invasion

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Arab League summit in Jeddah
— Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused some Arab leaders of ignoring the horrors of Russia's invasion of his country during a speech Friday at an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.

"Unfortunately, there are some in the world and here, among you, who turn a blind eye to those cages and illegal annexations," Zelensky told Arab heads of state, urging them to "take an honest look" at the war.

Zelensky's surprise trip to the summit in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah was his first to the Middle East since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

It gave him an opportunity to address leaders of a region that has been far less united in its support of Ukraine than his staunch Western allies.

Host Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as relatively neutral during the war, highlighting what it describes as the benefits of maintaining ties with both Moscow and Kyiv.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, attending his first Arab League summit in more than a decade, leads one of just five countries to vote against UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Russia cease hostilities in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warns Arab heads of states that some in their ranks are turning a "blind eye" to Russia's invasion

After Zelensky spoke on Friday, Syria's pro-government daily Al-Watan reported that the Syrian delegation did not use headphones provided for simultaneous translation of his speech, delivered in English.

Zelensky highlighted how the war in Ukraine has affected Muslims in the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

"Crimea was the first to suffer under the Russian occupation and until now most of those who are subjected to repression in occupied Crimea are Muslims," he said.

Zelensky also thanked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for supporting Ukraine's "territorial integrity", and called for unity "in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons".

- Neutral war stance -

Zelensky flew to Saudi Arabia on a French government plane arriving from Poland, the French ambassador to the kingdom said

Zelensky flew to Saudi Arabia on a French government plane arriving from Poland, the French ambassador to the kingdom, Ludovic Pouille, said in Twitter posts authenticated by embassy officials.

An Arab League official told AFP the invitation came from Saudi Arabia, not the bloc itself.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Riyadh has backed UN Security Council resolutions denouncing Russia's invasion as well as Russia's declared annexation of territory in eastern Ukraine.

At the same time, it has continued to coordinate closely with Russia on energy policy, including oil production cuts approved last October that Washington said at the time amounted to "aligning with Russia" in the war.

Last September, Riyadh played an unexpected role in brokering the release of foreign fighters detained in Ukraine, including two from the United States and five from Britain.

Earlier this year, a Saudi official told journalists that Riyadh remained open to contributing to mediation to end the conflict, especially "on important minor issues that may help cumulatively in the end to have a political solution of the whole issue".

As of February, Saudi Arabia had pledged $400 million in relief to Ukraine, about two-thirds in oil products and one-third in other humanitarian aid, including allocations for Ukrainian refugees who fled to neighbouring countries.