August 7, 2023
A meeting in Jeddah among the world’s most powerful nations on August 5 and 6 represents a paradigm shift concerning the war against Ukraine, not because it resolved the crisis, but because of who attended, who didn’t, and why. The gathering was hosted by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and the topic was how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine. President Zelensky was there but Russia was not invited. Attendees included the US, EU, China, India, Brazil, and 30 others whose participation tacitly implies they recognize that Russia is the guilty party, that his war spreads, and that it must end. Notably, two of Putin’s closest “allies” were there: The Saudi Prince, an OPEC colleague, and a representative of China’s Xi, Putin’s alleged “no limits” friend. The meeting was private, there was no public statement at its conclusion, but participants agreed to hold another. While inconclusive, the assemblage itself inflicted irreparable damage to Russia’s stature and reframes its war. “The consensus is that this isn’t a European war, but has impact on food, energy and economic stability globally and that it will take everyone on board to get to the final outcome of a settlement,” said a diplomat who spoke to The Wall Street Journal from a non-Western country.
Putin wages a horrific world war. He devastates Ukraine and damages the global economy. He targets civilians, hospitals and schools; he kidnaps children, and has driven as many as 11 million Ukrainians from their homes. He despoils its fertile food lands by laying land mines across an area the size of Switzerland that will take years to de-mine. He blocks grain shipments and destroys ports and storage facilities, threatening the lives of 400 million of the world’s poorest people around the world. He turns the Black Sea into a war zone, putting its environment and people at risk. He destroys dams, floods mines, and holds hostage Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
Putin is a “destroyer of worlds”. He finances violent coup d’etats across Africa and elsewhere and hints and threatens nuclear war, frightening the world and roiling markets. He backs rogue regimes in Syria, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. He’s created frozen conflicts throughout Europe in a quest for global domination and in 2020 “acquired” Belarus whose hapless President Lukashenko now hosts Putin’s Wagner Group and tactical nukes.
Putin’s murder and mayhem metastasizes and is why the significance of the Saudi conference and China’s participation cannot be overstated. Xi has been Russia’s most important ally, but began distancing himself after being stabbed in the back by Putin who announced their “no-limits friendship” in February 2022 without telling Xi that he would invade Ukraine days later and upend the world order. Ever since, Xi disconnects, but carefully. China benefits from huge volumes of cheap Russian energy, driven down in price by Western sanctions; but also China fears alienating Russia’s rotten regime which has historically been a sworn and dangerous enemy. Reports are that behind closed doors Xi has criticized Russian nuclear sabre-rattling. He has also been pressured by America and Europe — its principle customers — against providing military assistance to the Kremlin. So he does not. And China’s involvement in a Ukrainian
peace process is necessary to repair relations with the US and regain access to its semiconductor chips and critical technologies.
The Saudi-China relationship is new. A few months ago, they signed a three-way deal with Iran. China’s motivation was to reduce dependency on Russian oil by securing more supplies from the Middle East. The Saudi Prince’s goal is to become a key geopolitical player and is also why he organized this summit at the request of Zelensky. In addition, he also has his eye, as does Turkey, on the large, resource-rich portions of southwest Russia, populated by Turkic-speaking Muslims. These minorities are treated like second-class citizens by Moscow, used as cannon fodder in its war, and will bolt once Russia is defeated and falls apart, as happened in 1991 to the Soviet Union.
A number of African nations came because Russia’s world war is heavily concentrated on the Dark Continent, and Putin’s weaponization of food has destabilized and threatened their populaces. His Wagner Group mercenaries have helped overthrow four democracies in former French colonies in sub-Sahara Africa in recent months and actively foment trouble in a dozen more. On August 6, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis warned that Wagner’s complicity in the recent military coup in Niger may lead to a “full-blown war in Africa”. Last week, Niger’s neighbors began fighting over whether to invade it to return to power its democratically-elected regime or whether to join forces with the Russian-backed regime.
The August 5 and 6 Jeddah gathering was preceded by a smaller one in June in Copenhagen which China and India declined to attend. But as Putin doubles down and escalates, the world’s leaders hope to create a coalition capable of stopping Putin. It is a necessary workaround attempt because the United Nations and its Security Council no longer function. Its rules allow any of its five permanent members, such as Russia, to veto any peacekeeping or negotiation attempts so there are none. Ideally, this Jeddah confab will become a Union of Nations with enough clout to militarily and/or economically strangle the rogue Russian Federation.
The weekend’s events were not a fix, but were a positive sign that countries realize that this is a world war and no one is safe from Putin’s predations. Diplomacy won’t work alone, but can lead to enhanced military and financial aid and collaboration. The bill paid by the West in Ukraine so far totals $200 billion and must be increased to prevent Putin from subverting more of Europe and the world’s vulnerable nations. Others must be pressed into pulling their weight by imposing sanctions and by providing financial and military assistance. Russia meddles and murders in rich and poor countries alike, and the only solution to this global “cancer” is its defeat and regime change. And the involvement of so many fence-sitters and Putin “friends” in this undertaking is a consequential and needed start toward ridding the world of this rogue nation.