Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of a summit of Arab nations on Friday.
There, he was scheduled to face leaders who have largely remained neutral about Russia’s invasion of his nation, including several who still have cordial relations with Moscow.
Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, who was suspended from the Arab League 12 years ago at the outset of his country’s civil war, is present.
Both countries were devastated by Russian airstrikes on civilian populations, but in Syria, they helped Assad maintain power.
A recent diplomatic flurry by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is pursuing regional peace with the same fervor he previously applied to the oil-rich kingdom’s conflict with its archrival Iran, is the cause of the strange pairing of the two leaders at the same conference.
Saudi Arabia has recently worked to repair diplomatic ties with Iran, put an end to its protracted conflict with Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, and spearheaded efforts to get Syria back into the Arab League.
Following a prisoner swap agreement they mediated last year, the Saudis have even volunteered to arbitrate between Ukraine and Russia.
Zelenskyy was received by Saudi officials on the tarmac as he arrived at the airport wearing his signature brown fatigues, as seen on Saudi state TV.
He stated in a tweet that his goal is to “enhance bilateral relations and Ukraine’s ties with the Arab world.”
The head of Ukraine promised to speak at the summit in Jeddah about the treatment of Muslim Tatars who reside under Russian rule in the Crimean peninsula.
The Ukrainian president has recently traveled extensively abroad, but up until now, most of his stops have been in nations that are allies.
Saudi Arabia has voted in favor of U.N. resolutions and earlier this year promised $400 million in help to Ukraine resolutions urging Russia to halt its invasion and stop annexing Ukrainian territory.
But like other Arab regimes, it has rejected American efforts to boost oil production in an effort to reduce Russia’s earnings and has instead maintained cordial ties with Moscow.
Leaders from the 22-member league were expected to concentrate on Sudan while they were in Jeddah, a city on the Red Sea.
The country’s two top generals, who have both received support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, have been fighting each other across the country for more than a month, resulting in the deaths of hundreds and an exodus from the capital, Khartoum, and other areas.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to attend the 32nd Arab League summit
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) May 19, 2023