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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy in Saudi Arabia to talk prisoners, Russia war

Saudi Arabia has taken an increasingly active role in mediating the Ukraine-Russia war while maintaining friendly relations with both states.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for talks on the war with Russia as the kingdom continues to seek a role in mediating the conflict.

Zelenskyy said in a post on X that he is in Saudi Arabia to “continue regular dialogue” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two will discuss Zelenskyy’s peace formula and the upcoming peace conference in Switzerland, the return of prisoners of war, bilateral economic cooperation and Saudi involvement in Ukraine’s reconstruction, according to the Ukrainian leader.

“The kingdom's leadership has already contributed to the release of our people. I am confident that this meeting will also yield results,” said Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy announced his peace formula at last year's G20 summit in November of 2022. It calls for all Russian forces to leave Ukrainian territory. Russia has rejected the plan, saying it ignores realities, according to Russia's official news agency TASS.

Switzerland told the United Nations on Friday that it would host the peace conference by the summer, according to Reuters.

Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia dispatched a plane carrying 80 tons of aid for Ukraine to Poland’s Rzeszow airport, near the Ukrainian border. The shipment marks Saudi Arabia’s 10th aid delivery to Ukraine, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Why it matters: Saudi Arabia continues to be involved in deliberations on the war. In 2022, Saudi Arabia and Turkey helped mediate a swap of nearly 300 prisoners between Russia and Ukraine. The deal included foreign volunteers fighting on behalf of Ukraine who were transferred from Russian custody to Riyadh.

The following are some notable developments in Saudi diplomatic efforts amid the Ukraine war over the past year:

  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Ukraine in February 2023 and signed a $400 million aid agreement.
  • Zelenskyy attended the Arab League summit in Jeddah last May.
  • Saudi Arabia hosted a summit focused on ending the war in Ukraine in August.

Saudi Arabia maintains friendly relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Saudi Arabia and Russia notably cooperate via the OPEC+ cartel of oil producers. In December, the Saudi leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin urged members of the alliance to abide by agreed upon production cuts in a bid to keep prices up.

Know more: The United Arab Emirates has also helped mediate between Russia and Ukraine on the issue of prisoner swaps. The Emirates announced it helped broker prisoner exchanges between the two warring countries in January and earlier this month, leading to the release of hundreds of prisoners.