Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made a surprise stop in Jeddah to attend an Arab League summit, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, heavily-backed by Russia in his country’s civil war, will also be present now that his regional isolation ended.
Zelenskiy arrived on a French government plane on Friday. His visit comes off the back of a whirlwind of international travel for the Ukrainian leader, but until now he has mostly visited allied countries.
He is also due to attend the G7 leaders’ summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima this weekend.
“Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays a significant role and we are ready to take our cooperation to a new level,” he tweeted shortly after arrival.
He said his aim was to “enhance bilateral relations and Ukraine’s ties with the Arab world.” Among other topics he mentioned were Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peace “formula,” and energy cooperation.
Saudi state TV broadcast footage showing Zelenskiy arriving at the airport in his trademark brown fatigues and being greeted on the tarmac by Saudi officials.
He said he would address the summit in Jeddah and discuss the treatment of Muslim Tatars living under Russian occupation in the Crimean peninsula.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has mediated in the Russia-Ukraine conflict before.
Last year Prince Mohammed won a diplomatic triumph when he secured the release of 10 foreigners captured by Russia in Ukraine. The move was apparently made possible by his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Gulf states have tried to remain neutral in the Ukraine conflict despite Western pressure on Gulf oil producers to help isolate Russia, a fellow OPEC+ member.
The kingdom faced heavy criticism from the United States over an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, seen as helping Russia to refill its coffers by boosting prices.
Even though the October decision initially drew heavy criticism from the United States and other Western countries, market dynamics since then have shown the cuts to be prudent.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia pledged $US400 million ($A601 million) in aid to Ukraine earlier this year and has voted in favour of UN resolutions calling on Russia to end its invasion and refrain from annexing Ukrainian territory.