China to attend talks on Ukraine in Saudi Arabia that exclude Russia


Brussels/London (Reuters) – China said on Friday it would send a senior official to Saudi Arabia for weekend talks on finding a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine, a forum that excludes Russia, in a diplomatic coup for Kyiv, the West and the Saudi hosts.

Ukrainian and Western diplomats hope the meeting in Jeddah of national security advisers and other senior officials from some 40 countries will agree on key principles for a future peace settlement to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Chinese Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui will visit Jeddah for the talks, China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.

“China is willing to work with the international community to continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese ministry, said in a statement.

China was invited to a previous round of talks in Copenhagen in late June but did not attend.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year, China has kept close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia and rejected international calls to condemn Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday he hoped the initiative will lead to a “peace summit” of leaders from around the world this autumn to endorse the principles, based on his own 10-point formula for a settlement.

Zelenskiy’s formula includes respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the withdrawal of Russian troops, anathema to Moscow which claims to have annexed occupied Ukrainian territory forever.

Ukrainian, Russian and international officials say there is no prospect of direct peace talks between Ukraine and Russia at the moment, as the war continues to rage and Kyiv seeks to reclaim territory through a counter-offensive.

But Ukraine aims first to build a bigger coalition of diplomatic support beyond its core Western backers, by reaching out to Global South countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa, many of which have remained publicly neutral.

“One of the main aims of this round of negotiations will be to finally fix a common understanding of what the 10 points are about,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy’s chief diplomatic adviser, told Reuters on Thursday.

The 10-point plan also calls for protection of food and energy supplies, nuclear safety and the release of all prisoners.

Earlier this week, the Kremlin said it would keep an eye on the Jeddah meeting, while restating Moscow’s position that it currently saw no grounds for peace talks with Kyiv.

“We need to understand what goals are set and what will be discussed. Any attempt to promote a peaceful settlement deserves a positive evaluation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

Western diplomats say an endorsement of all of Zelenskiy’s peace formula is highly unlikely at the talks. But they have been aiming to at least get clear backing for principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter – the founding document of the United Nations – such as territorial integrity.

Saudi Diplomacy

Saudi diplomacy had played a key role in urging Beijing to attend the Jeddah talks, a German official said.

Saudi Arabia has not commented publicly on the talks but Ukrainian and Western officials said the country’s decision to host the meeting reflected a desire by Riyadh to play a prominent diplomatic role in efforts to resolve the conflict.

Saudi Arabia, along with Turkey, played a mediation role in a major prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia last September.

Zelenskiy attended an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia in May this year, at which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed his readiness to mediate in the war.

A senior European Union official said Saudi Arabia reached “into parts of the world where (Ukraine’s) classical allies would not get to as easily”.

In seeking to win over Global South countries, Western officials say they will stress that food prices have jumped since Russia quit a deal to allow safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea and carried out a string of air strikes on Ukraine’s ports.

“We’ll be for sure making this point and loud and clear,” another senior EU official said.

Senior officials from the United States, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, will also attend the talks.

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