Article of the Ambassador of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Anatolii Petrenko "Ukraine and Saudi Arabia: Broadening horizons of cooperation" for the English-language daily Saudi newspaper "Arab News" on January 07, 2023.
One more year of Ukrainian-Saudi relations has come to an end. The past year’s high-speed, turbulent pace was dictated by a complex set of internal and external factors affecting the agendas of each country, which neither had ever experienced before.
The Russian war against Ukraine, and its implications in terms of global food and energy crises, posed a threat and challenge to the whole of mankind, while pushing countries to find convenient forms of interaction to offset malign trends and neutralize their negative effects.
Against this background, I could describe Ukrainian-Saudi relations in 2022 in three capacious words: Empathy, openness and perspective.
To begin with, I would like to say that my experience in Saudi Arabia has not yet exceeded five months. But from arrival, I have been astonished by the unprecedented hospitality and incredible support of all the people I have met along the way. Friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful to others — all of these words characterize the Saudi people.
But even more accurately, the leadership of Saudi Arabia is aware of public sentiment and this has been reflected in their consistent and unchanging position in supporting the Ukrainian people in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression. In particular, this was seen during a number of votes for key UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the acts of the aggressor.
Another example of the clear wisdom and sincere empathy of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman was the generous humanitarian assistance provided in 2022 to Ukrainian civilians suffering from the horrific consequences of the Russian war. This is increasingly important against the backdrop of recent Russian terrorist attacks targeting Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure assets during the coldest period of the year.
And so it is my privilege to pass on words of gratitude to the political leadership of the Kingdom. The people of Ukraine will never forget your kindness and compassion. At the same time, we hope that our Saudi friends will continue to support Ukrainians, especially during the tough times to come.
Throughout the past year, we have had the pleasure of witnessing the intensified political dialogue between Ukrainian and Saudi leaders. New challenges and circumstances require a more active exchange of views and coordination on a number of issues that are of common interest. It has been an important milestone on the path to a deepening of friendly relations between our states.
We consider Saudi Arabia as a leader of the entire Muslim world, with a significant influence on a number of global processes, and as our important and promising partner in various areas of bilateral relations. And we hope that, in particular through our personal efforts, we will succeed in unleashing its significant potential.
In line with the above, Ukraine attaches great importance to the development of mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia, a major trading and economic partner in the Middle East and Gulf regions.
We would be very honored if our Saudi friends could join in processes that will allow Ukraine to become a modern economy while at the same time offering lucrative, beneficial opportunities to Saudi businesses that can boost recognition and proper appreciation of them in Eastern Europe.
Despite the negative consequences of the Russian aggression on the Ukrainian economy and business activities, we managed a pretty decent level of bilateral trade over nine months in 2022, worth about $583 million, with Ukrainian exports and imports estimated at $365.3 million and $217.9 million, respectively.
Along with this there is significant unlocked potential for further expansion and diversification, in particular through high-value-added products. Taking into account the Kingdom’s geographical position and its influence in the region, Saudi Arabia can become a gateway for promoting and supplying Ukrainian goods to third-party markets in the Middle East and Africa on a mutually beneficial basis.
The events of the past year have made Ukraine reconsider its relations with countries in the Global South, which recently had been characterized by some share of inconsistency and irregularity. But the reality is that this region plays one of the most critical roles in the world.
Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said: “Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America are a new diplomatic front in the face of full-scale Russian aggression; world politics and decision-making are concentrated not only in the NATO and EU countries, despite their strategic importance for Ukraine.”
Now, Ukraine intends to focus its attention and increase its presence in this significant sphere of interests.
Unfortunately, our plans are overshadowed by the war initiated by Russia. It not only undermines Ukraine’s capacity to conduct its usual trade and investment cooperation but also has a major impact on the global energy and food security situation, creating new challenges and hurdles for the post-COVID-19 world trade and economic system.
To remove the hurdles on the way to our joint story of success and prosperity, we need to effectively counter the continuous Russian aggression. Ukraine’s formula for peace, presented by President Volodymyr Zelensky at the 2022 G20 Summit, could be a comprehensive basis to achieve this end.It consists of 10 steps to put an end to Russian aggression, restore peace and strengthen respect for international law. The 10 steps include nuclear safety, food security, energy security, the release of all prisoners and deported persons, the implementation of the UN Charter and restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the full withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, restoration of justice, countering ecocide, preventing escalation, and ensuring that the aggression is never repeated.
We believe that this initiative could become a global format for peace. Every nation can choose elements of the formula and work with Ukraine on implementing them. The fact is that Saudi Arabia has already begun to work on a number of elements of Ukraine’s peace formula, demonstrating the Kingdom’s clear intention to take a leadership role in spheres representing the interests of the global community.
We had the pleasure in September of witnessing the Kingdom mediate foreign prisoner-of-war swaps, provide Ukrainians with generous humanitarian and energy assistance, and support pro-Ukrainian initiatives within the UN.
The fact is that Saudi Arabia has already begun to work on a number of elements of Ukraine’s peace formula, demonstrating the Kingdom’s clear intention to take a leadership role in spheres representing the interests of the global community.
At the same time, we urge our Saudi partners to continue their noble mission by directly joining our formula for peace and participating in the upcoming summit devoted to proliferation of the Ukrainian initiative, which opens a window of opportunity for every country and leader to show political leadership on both the regional and world stages.
Food security remains one of our principal concerns. Ukraine is committed to its obligations as a global guarantor of food security and we are constantly looking for new routes for exports of food.
The humanitarian Grain From Ukraine initiative launched by President Zelensky at the International Summit on Food Security continues to function successfully despite all the challenges. The initiative allows participating states to directly purchase agricultural products from Ukraine and facilitates the transfer of Ukrainian food to countries in need. Ukraine has already raised more than $200 million under the initiative. Based on our mutual aspirations to eliminate food insecurity in the most vulnerable countries, we invite Saudi Arabia to join our efforts.
Energy is another issue of special importance for Ukraine. As one of the strategic branches of the Ukrainian economy, it helps to safeguard decent quality of life in many spheres of society and the welfare of its citizens.
Since the beginning of the Russian aggression, Ukraine’s energy sector has been subjected to constant threats in the form of Russian speculation and manipulation. This is a lever of pressure we would like Russia to be deprived of. That is why Ukraine is resorting to broad diversification. Saudi Arabia’s resources and deep expertise, especially in the renewable energy sector, can effectively assist us in achieving energy independence.
Ukraine praises the efforts taken by Saudi Arabia to counter the terrorist activities that threaten the security and stability of the region. Unfortunately, we also have to face terrorism that is so actively flourishing on our borders. On a daily basis we are doing our best to shoot down the Russian missiles and Iranian-made kamikaze drones targeting peaceful citizens and the assets of critical infrastructure. We have a huge amount of experience in countering terrorism and a number of countries facing such malign activity can benefit from it.
The Russian factor is becoming more toxic by the day and Ukraine warns countries in the Global South about the danger of cooperation with Russia. Moscow is trying to circumvent the sanctions that have been imposed on it, and is looking for shadow schemes in the nations of the Global South, but those who help Russia to bypass international sanctions might themselves be subject to secondary sanctions.
The growing influence of Russian private military companies in African nations threatens the political stability of those states and the security of neighboring countries and entire regions. The Russian private military company Wagner, considered a terrorist organization by the European Parliament, has reportedly recruited militants among prisoners in Africa for deployment on the front lines of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The Russian leadership tries to justify the invasion of Ukraine to the world by investing immense resources in the activities of its state media abroad, which actively spread fake news and develop propaganda ecosystems promoting disinformation campaigns across the Global South.
It is crucial to stand as one and present a united front so as to deny Russia the opportunity to undermine peace and stability in Ukraine, as well as in the countries of the Global South.
Ukraine believes in victory, the restoration of justice and peace, based on international law. International law is definitely the strongest connecting point between Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, both of which are countries whose political priorities are guided by the principles of respect for territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all nations.
As we map out a draft joint plan for 2023 and beyond, we simultaneously raise a rhetorical question: What will be the best strategy for our bilateral actions? It would be wise to combine our efforts and invest mutual expertise in developing a post-war economic recovery plan and associated investment portfolio for Ukraine.
It is not assistance we ask for, it is a range of opportunities that coincide with Saudi Arabia’s agenda of transformation. We would be very honored if our Saudi friends could join in processes that will allow Ukraine to become a modern economy while at the same time offering lucrative, beneficial opportunities to Saudi businesses that can boost recognition and proper appreciation of them in Eastern Europe.