Will Putin Accept the Saudi Peace Efforts?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud hold a joint press conference following their talks in Moscow on March 9, 2023. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Will Putin Accept the Saudi Peace Efforts?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, March 10

The statements of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, offer cautious optimism in regard to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This optimism is reminiscent of French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech aboard his plane returning from Jordan to Paris after the Baghdad II summit. On this occasion, Macron expressed his hope that Saudi Arabia’s influence could be used to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate and end the war in Ukraine, noting that “it must end one day and we must get Putin to negotiate.” Today, Saudi Arabia is taking steps toward peace in Ukraine. With the country’s various interests in Russia, it is well-placed to open a dialogue with Putin. This includes a Saudi-Russian partnership in OPEC+, which Russia can use to shield itself from the effects of its invasion of Ukraine, such as decreased exports and price cuts in oil and gas to Europe and India and other Asian countries. On the political level, Putin’s isolation following the invasion of Ukraine may prompt him to accept Saudi mediation. The kingdom has a strong relationship with Ukraine and its president, providing valuable financial assistance to Kiev. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally of the United States and Europe, particularly France and Britain. However, the issue at hand is Putin’s alliance with Iran, which supplies the country with weapons and drones for its war in Ukraine. Iran also destabilizes the Gulf region, as well as Yemen, the Levant, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. The question is: Will Putin renounce his alliance with Iran? This is currently unlikely, especially since Putin’s ambition is to restore Ukrainian regions that he considers to be Russian territory. Despite public opinion in Russia opposing the invasion, Putin is determined to stay in the war, since the Russian people view him as a strong president who stands his ground on the global stage despite the hefty losses he has incurred. Thousands of young Russians have fallen in the war. Putin rules Russia and fights in Ukraine as if he were a modern-day tsar, unilaterally making decisions and frequently changing his army generals. US President Joe Biden and European leaders are determined to counteract Putin’s expansion and prevent him from occupying Ukraine. To this end, they are prepared to support the Ukrainian army with American and European warplanes. Biden is not like Obama, who allowed Putin to expand his presence in Syria and disregard the red lines on Syrian chemical weapons. Furthermore, Ukraine is in a different position than Syria, as it is located at Europe’s doorstep, and cannot be allowed to be dominated by Putin. It is in the West’s interest to back Saudi Arabia’s efforts to urge Putin to the negotiating table with Ukraine. The question is, will Putin respond to Saudi efforts when he has been convinced that he can revive the era of the Russian czars through his autocratic rule? Western sanctions against Russia and Putin’s wealthy associates will eventually take their toll. Putin should accept Saudi mediation, as the kingdom has a lot of influence with its allies in the West, even though US-Saudi relations have been somewhat strained in the past few years. The problem with Putin is that he appears to be working with a friendly mediator but, in reality, his sole objective is to negotiate with the American president. He is hoping that Biden will reach out to him, but this will not happen while the war in Ukraine continues. Putin has even disregarded China’s peace proposal for the region and has refused to engage with it. Putin believes that he is restoring the Soviet Union’s influence in the face of America through his actions in Ukraine, and therefore Iran is of great importance to him. However, this does not stop him from engaging with major countries such as Saudi Arabia, so it is essential to proceed with the talks with caution. – Randa Taqi Al-Din (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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