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Ukraine War 'peace talks' this weekend — but Russia not invited

The focus of the Saudi-hosted event is expected to be Kyiv's 10-point plan, which Moscow has said is a non-starter.

Analysis | Global Crises

Ukraine’s attempts to win over a large group of unaligned nations continues this weekend in Saudi Arabia during a summit billed as “peace talks” organized by Kyiv and Riyadh. 

The meeting is in many ways a continuation of the one held in Denmark in late June — attended by a number of European officials as well as representatives from Brazil, India, Turkey, and South Africa — where Ukraine and its Western backers aimed to consolidate support for their vision for peace, particularly among countries from the Global South, many of which have remained so far on the fence. 

The full list of invitees or attendees is not known, though Russia will once again be excluded. According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the plan for talks, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have extended invitations to representatives from thirty nations, including Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico, Chile, Zambia, and China. Beijing’s absence from the June meeting was significant, and Saudi Arabia was chosen to host this round of talks partly in hopes of attracting Beijing. 

U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan is expected to attend the talks, which will reportedly be held in the port city of Jeddah this weekend.

As with the summit in Copenhagen, the focus of these talks is expected to be Ukraine’s ten-point plan, which calls for, among other things, restoring Ukraine’s control over the entirety of its territory, returning prisoners of war, and prosecuting Russian war crimes. 

“The Ukrainian Peace Formula contains 10 fundamental points, the implementation of which will not only ensure peace for Ukraine, but also create mechanisms to counter future conflicts in the world,” Andriy Yermak, one of President Zelensky’s closest advisors, said in a statement. “We are deeply convinced that the Ukrainian peace plan should be taken as a basis, because the war is taking place on our land.”

Kyiv and its supporters have been trying to get neutral nations to support this conception of a peace deal. The group of Global South nations present in Denmark, however, did not agree to sign on to it, reportedly, instead expressing their willingness to discuss shared principles. Ukraine’s hope is that getting more countries on board will strengthen their position in any eventual negotiations. 

“Ukraine and Western officials hope the efforts could culminate in a peace summit later this year where global leaders would sign up to shared principles for resolving the war,” says the Journal. “They hope that those principles could frame future peace talks between Russia and Ukraine to Kyiv’s advantage.” 

Not everyone supports Moscow’s continued exclusion from these kinds of discussions. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that he would not attend the summit unless Russia was involved, while calling for a swift end to the "irrational" war. "If there's acceptance from both Ukraine and Russia to look for solutions to achieve peace, we'll participate," Lopez Obrador said on Monday during a press conference. 

For its part, Moscow has said that it will track the happenings in Jeddah. “Russia will follow this meeting. We need to understand what goals are set and what will be discussed. Any attempt to promote a peaceful settlement deserves a positive evaluation,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— Russian President Vladimir Putin offered tepid support for a peace initiative proposed by a group of African nations, but said that negotiations over a ceasefire could not start while the Ukrainian counteroffensive is ongoing. "There are provisions of this peace initiative that are being implemented, but there are things that are difficult or impossible to implement,” Putin said, according to Reuters “[T]he Ukrainian army is on the offensive, they are attacking, they are implementing a large-scale strategic offensive operation... We cannot cease fire when we are under attack." Only 17 heads of state attended the recent Russia-Africa Summit, and as Connor Echols detailed last week, the benefits for African nations working with Moscow now appear more limited than ever.

— The Ukrainian harvest this year was the lowest in a decade, according to a July report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That number could continue to stagger following Russia’s decision to end the Black Sea grain deal last month and subsequent attacks on Ukrainian port cities, leaving farmers with increasingly fewer ways to export grain. The Black Sea was previously responsible for more than 90 percent of Ukrainian grain exports. The president of the Ukrainian Grain Association told the Associated Press that increased shipping costs and the risks of further attacks could make harvesting new grain unprofitable for Ukrainian farmers.

— Dmitry Medvedev, former president and current deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, threatened the use of nuclear weapons if the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive is a success. "Imagine if the... offensive, which is backed by NATO, was a success and they tore off a part of our land then we would be forced to use a nuclear weapon according to the rules of a decree from the president of Russia,” Medvedev said, according to Reuters.  "There would simply be no other option. So our enemies should pray for our warriors' (success). They are making sure that a global nuclear fire is not ignited."

—Reporting from the past week indicates that the counteroffensive is still struggling to break through. “If Ukraine’s supporters were hoping for a breakthrough after Kyiv’s forces made a new push in the southeast of the country last week, they were sorely disappointed,” reports Politico. “The latest attack, which saw Ukraine throw in thousands of Western-trained reinforcements to drive south from the town of Orikhiv, has not yet yielded significant results, U.S. Defense Department officials told NatSec Daily this week, with one noting that the gains are being measured in the hundreds of meters.” 

“The first several weeks of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive have not been kind to the Ukrainian troops who were trained and armed by the United States and its allies,” adds a New York Times report from Wednesday. “In the first two weeks of the counteroffensive, as much as 20 percent of the weaponry Ukraine sent to the battlefield was damaged or destroyed, according to U.S. and European officials. The toll included some of the formidable Western fighting machines — tanks and armored personnel carriers — that the Ukrainians were counting on to beat back the Russians.” 

U.S. State Department news:

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller laid out Washington’s expectations for the talks in Saudi Arabia during his weekly press briefing on Wednesday. 

“So we are not looking at these talks as generating any concrete deliverables at the end of them. The point of these talks is to continue the conversation with countries around the world about how we obtain a just and lasting peace at the end of this war,” he said. “(...) Remember, there’s still active fighting in Ukraine, and for there to be any kind of peace negotiations, Russia has to show that it’s willing to enter into peace negotiations, and it hasn’t done so. So from our perspective, this is still a chance for countries in the world to hear directly from Ukraine. Obviously, we hope that every country in the world would support Ukraine’s position and every country in the world would take the position that we do, that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty ought to be respected.”

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