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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Can Saudi Arabia Really Broker Ukraine Peace Without Russia?

Saudi Arabia is set to host non-Western countries to discuss how to initiate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow-based daily Kommersant takes an in-depth look at what the high-level talks, slated for Aug. 5 in Jeddah, mean for Russia — who wasn't invited to the summit —, Ukraine and the world.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the 32nd Arab Summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2023

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the 32nd Arab Summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19

Alexei Zabrodin

MOSCOW — Representatives of dozens of countries are expected to meet on Aug. 5 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss how to initiate peace talks on Ukraine. The head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed the news on Sunday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the meeting is organized on the initiative of Kyiv and with the support of the West. In addition to Ukraine's allies, countries such as Brazil, India, Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa have been asked to participate. Notably, Russia has not received an invitation to the event.

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The summit is intended to bridge the gap between Western and non-Western perspectives on both the Ukrainian war and ways to resolve it. Based on statements made by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in St. Petersburg, it appears that global demand for a quick end to the conflict is growing.

Two irreconcilable stances

At present, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict exhibits two seemingly irreconcilable stances. On the one hand, Kyiv seeks to regain territory up to its 1991 borders. On the other hand, calls for an early peaceful settlement are growing worldwide.

So far, most peace initiatives have come from non-Western states, which gained only limited support from Moscow and hardly any from Kyiv. It is worth noting, however, that all these initiatives have ultimately aimed at preserving Ukraine's territorial integrity in one way or another, leaving room for possible adjustments to fit Ukrainian President Volodoymyr Zelensky's "peace formula".

The talks in Saudi Arabia are aimed at gaining broad international support for the Ukrainian position, which rests on the complete withdrawal of Russian troops behind the 1991 borders. Western and Ukrainian politicians then hope that the talks under the auspices of Riyadh will serve as a prologue to a peace summit that Kyiv says it plans to hold by the end of this year. The idea is that at this summit a large number of countries could reach an agreement on how to end the conflict and pave the way for possible future negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

"Wooing" developing countries

Saudi Arabia was not selected by chance as the venue. While Riyadh has relatively close ties with Moscow, it has repeatedly emphasized its "neutral" position regarding the conflict and has even acted as a mediator in prisoner exchanges between the parties.

How one can seriously discuss a peaceful settlement when Russia's participation is not envisaged?

During a summit of the Arab League in May, where Zelensky also spoke, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that Riyadh supports international efforts to resolve the conflict and is prepared to mediate the negotiations. Additionally, the West hoped to involve Beijing in the meeting, as Saudi Arabia has established relatively good relations with China. But it appears that China will not be participating in the upcoming meeting.

The talks in Saudi Arabia are also a follow-up to a similar event in Copenhagen on June 24, where non-public discussions between diplomats from Western and non-Western countries on Ukraine took place with Moscow not being invited.

In response, the Russian Ambassador to Denmark, Vladimir Barbin, stated that it is unclear "how one can seriously discuss a peaceful settlement when Russia's participation is not envisaged."

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the West was attempting to "woo leading developing countries, countries of the Global South, into supporting [Zelensky’s peace] formula".

Photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin leaning over to speak with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyhad in 2019\u200b

Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyhad in 2019

Mikhail Metzel/TASS/ZUMA

Negative impact on African countries

Present in Jeddah will also be representatives from African countries who convened at the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg last week, where they discussed an African initiative for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

This issue was particularly pressing due to Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, which the summit's guests received with very limited enthusiasm. For instance, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that the Black Sea should be open to global markets. According to him, while Russia's free shipments of tens of thousands of tons of grain to the poorest countries are undoubtedly beneficial, they do not negate the importance of implementing the Black Sea initiative.

We believe that restoring peace serves the interests of humanity.

"The ongoing conflict has a negative impact on us, the African countries,” he said. “This conflict affects us directly ... It creates problems in the field of food security: prices for fertilizers have risen, and the cost of living has also increased in many of our countries. We believe that restoring peace serves the interests of humanity, as well as the people of Russia and Ukraine. We believe that this conflict must be resolved peacefully.”

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the African approach to resolution "aligns with the provisions of the peace plan presented by China in February."

"We have never refused negotiations; we have always publicly stated that we are ready to continue the dialogue," he said, adding that Russia had reached an agreement with Ukraine last year, but it was renounced by Kyiv.

"Therefore, I believe the ball is completely in their court," Vladimir Putin concluded.

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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