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Ukrainian President Zelenskiy lands in Saudi Arabia to push for peace and a POW exchange with Russia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to position himself as a potential mediator to end the war between Ukraine and Russia

Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2024.SAUDI PRESS AGENCY (via REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday with plans to visit the kingdom’s powerful crown prince to push for a peace plan and the return of prisoners of war from Russia.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to position himself as a potential mediator to end the war between Ukraine and Russia — even as Riyadh remains closely aligned with Russia on energy policies through the OPEC+ group of countries.

Zelenskiy’s trip came as Kyiv’s forces are slowly being pushed back in eastern Ukraine. Russia has gained the initiative due to its big advantage in troop numbers and weapon supplies, military analysts say, as Kyiv waits for news of new provisions from its Western partners.

The Ukrainian military said Tuesday it has withdrawn its forces from two more villages near Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region following intense overnight fighting, according to a Ukrainian army spokesman.

Ukrainian troops have pulled back from Sieverne and Stepove, Dmytro Lykhovyi said on national television. The two villages had a population of some 100 people in total before the full-scale invasion, he said.

Ukraine continues to “rely on Saudi Arabia’s ongoing active support” in pushing forward with what has been described as a “Peace Formula” to end the full-scale invasion, which marked its second anniversary over the weekend, Zelenskiy said in a message on X, formerly Twitter.

Zelenskiy has presented a 10-point peace formula that, among other things, seeks the expulsion of all Russian forces from Ukraine and accountability for war crimes — at a time when the two sides are fighting from largely static positions along a roughly 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line. Such ideas are rejected out of hand by Moscow.

“The second topic is the return of POWs and deportees,” Zelenskiy wrote. “The kingdom’s leadership has already contributed to the release of our people. I am confident that this meeting will also yield results.”

He didn’t elaborate on that, but said that economic cooperation also would be discussed.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said that Zelenskiy arrived at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport and was met by government officials.

Over the last several years, Crown Prince Mohammed over the last several years has reached a detente with Iran, pursued a peace deal with Yemen’s Houthi rebels and also offered himself as a leader in other crises worldwide. That’s after facing widespread international condemnation for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe was carried out on his orders.

In May, Zelenskiy traveled to Saudi Arabia for a meeting of Arab leaders and also met then with Crown Prince Mohammed. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — all neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula — have been involved with prisoner exchanges since the war broke out in 2022.

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