It is a clear success of French diplomacy that in the last four days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been taken by a French official airplane to two international summits, where he did his best to impact international players perceived as neutral vis-à-vis the Russian aggression against his country.
Zelenskyy surprised all by arriving last Friday in Jeddah, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he attended an Arab League summit before going to the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
Among the few who knew was French President Emmanuel Macron, who is required to permit the aircraft that took Zelenskyy to be used.
Using the official airplane of such an important nation as France is, of course, a security guarantee for Zelenskyy, but more importantly, it reveals that diplomats in Kyiv and Paris are working hand in hand.
The difficult period in which Ukraine accused Macron of mediating behind his back, and being too keen on not humiliating Putin, is now water under the bridge.
Did France open the doors to Zelenskyy at the Arab League summit? It’s hard to say. France has more influence than others (the UK, for example) in this organisation, which keeps its distance from the West.
And Ukraine certainly has its contacts, with Saudi Arabia having helped negotiate prisoner exchanges with Russia. The fact that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has maintained strong ties to Moscow despite the war has, in this case, helped.
It was a good move by Zelenskyy to attend a forum of countries somewhat ambivalent about Russian aggression. It was also wise to include in the delegation Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar community.
As he has done many times before, Zelenskyy tailored his Jeddah speech to the audience, returning repeatedly to the plight of Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar population, which he described as “the centre of Muslim culture in Ukraine.”
It may be a clever move – also by France – to seek mediators to end the conflict among countries that still have good ties with Russia. Although the time to discuss peace has not come, such contacts are precious.
From Jeddah, the French plane took Zelenskyy to Hiroshima, where the Japanese prime minister hosted a G7 summit.
Fumio Kishida made a point of inviting figures from the so-called Global South to Hiroshima for talks. Invitees included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, all seen as Russia-friendly and possible mediators with Moscow.
The Hiroshima summit gave Zelenskyy a chance to win over India in particular. Its prime minister, Narendra Modi, whom Zelenskyy met in person for the first time since Russia’s invasion began, expressed “clear support for dialogue and diplomacy to find a way forward”.
Winning support or understanding from leaders like Modi could be a key motivation also driving Zelenskyy to attend the G7, analysts have said.
Reportedly, Zelenskyy discussed in Hiroshima “the implementation of the peace formula” with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whom he thanked for the invitation to participate in the G20 summit in Bali last November 2022, where the Ukrainian peace formula was presented to the world.
On the negative side, a planned meeting between Zelenskyy and Brazil’s Lula on the sidelines of the G7 summit didn’t materialise, reportedly because the Ukrainian president was late as a press interview had taken more time than expected.
All this diplomatic work will likely bear fruit at the “Summit of the Peace Formula” Zelenskyy proposed to be held in July, a “symbolic” time when Ukraine will mark 500 days of holding out against Russia’s full-scale invasion.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Paris were to be the summit venue.
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Look out for….
- Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni delivers virtual keynote speech at Italian Investment Conference 2023 on Tuesday.
- Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn meets Romanian PM Nicolae Ciucă and Finance Minister Adrian Câciu in Bucharest.
- Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi participates in the conference Minority rights in the EU enlargement process.
- Foreign Affairs Council (Defence).
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]