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Zelenskyy in Riyadh for talks on path to ending Russia war

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference during the "Ukraine Year 2024" forum in Kyiv on Feb. 25, 2024, marking the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.   (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Kateryna Chursina and Aliaksandr Kudrytski Bloomberg News

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, one of the few world leaders to have met Vladimir Putin since Russia’s invasion in 2022.

“Topic number one is the Peace Formula,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday in a post on social media platform X, referring to an initiative that requires Russian forces to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine has been rallying global leaders to support its proposed peace deal, and Zelenskyy last month unveiled plans for a high-level meeting in Switzerland to move forward with the formula. Security officials from more than 80 nations met in Davos in January to discuss the blueprint, but the meeting ended with no clear path forward.

Zelenskyy said he is counting on support of Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler, who is trying to position the kingdom as the leading diplomatic power in the Middle East and a conflict mediator.

Other topics he plans to discuss with MBS, as the crown prince is known, include help with brokering prisoner swaps and the return of people illegally deported to Russia. They will also talk about Saudi Arabia’s potential participation in the future reconstruction of Ukraine.

The deputy governor of Riyadh, Prince Mohammed bin Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz, received Zelenskyy at the King Khalid International Airport, along with other Saudi officials and the Ukrainian ambassador to the gulf state. It’s Zelenskyy’s second visit to Saudi Arabia in the past year — he addressed a summit of Arab leaders in the kingdom last May, thanking them for their support of Ukraine.

Switzerland hopes to establish talks for peace in Ukraine by the summer, Defense Minister Viola Amherd said in an interview with the Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper on Saturday.

Ukraine’s allies are keen for any high-level gathering to include a diversity of participants from emerging powers including China and the powers of the so-called Global South, such as Brazil, South Africa and India. Saudi Arabia was instrumental in attracting a Chinese representative to a meeting of national advisors that was held in Jeddah, the only one of four such gatherings where China was present.

Putin traveled to Saudi Arabia last year for a meeting with Prince Mohammed. Zelenskyy has previously ruled out direct talks with the Russian president.