© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attend the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / File Photo
By Aziz El Yaakoubi
Analysts say Saudi Arabia has won a diplomatic victory by freeing foreign fighters captured in Ukraine, showing the value of the crown prince’s alliance with Russia to opponents. Western partners are seeking to isolate Moscow during the war there.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may also find that this initiative – intentionally or otherwise – helps bring him closer to international recovery after the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi damaged his reputation. him, they said.
With the mediation of Crown Prince Mohammed, Russia on Wednesday released 10 foreigners it had detained in Ukraine, including five Britons and two Americans.
The move appears to have been made possible by Crown Prince Mohammed’s carefully cultivated relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which coincided with a prisoner exchange with 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians. which Turkey helped broker.
Kristian Ulrichsen, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the US, said the working relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia appeared to be an important factor in the selection of the middleman.
“By sanctioning this reconciliation and delivering results, Mohammed bin Salman is able to present himself as a man capable of playing a political role in the region in a way that counters the narrative that the crown prince is the crown prince,” Ulrichsen said. an impulsive and disruptive actor.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s early image as a bold reformer was battered by the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the hands of Saudi agents seen as pro-democracy. close to MbS.
He denied ordering Khashoggi’s murder while saying he was ultimately responsible because it happened under his watch.
In a statement to the BBC, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said the motive behind Saudi Arabia’s participation in the release of prisoners was for humanitarian purposes. He denied the Crown Prince was involved in restoring his reputation.
“That doesn’t affect it. I think that’s a very cynical view,” he said. He added that regarding the conflict itself, the kingdom wants to see a negotiated solution and Riyadh has committed to trying to help ensure that outcome.
Prince Faisal said the crown prince had signed the prisoner agreement with Putin since April, when he “understood” the problem of the five British citizens following a visit to the kingdom by then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“His Royal Highness convinced President Putin that this was a very worthwhile humanitarian gesture, and this is how we achieved this,” Prince Faisal told Fox News.
The freed prisoners, including a Croatian, a Moroccan and a Swedish citizen, were taken to Riyadh on a Saudi plane, where officials lined up to greet them .
U.S. citizens Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, both from Alabama, are expected to leave Saudi Arabia within the next few days, officials said.
The importance of the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, to both Washington and Moscow has grown at a time when Russia’s war in Ukraine is rattling global energy markets.
World leaders have beaten a path to Riyadh to demand more oil production. But Saudi Arabia has shown no willingness to join the effort to isolate Russia. It has increased cooperation with Putin, including within the OPEC+ group of oil producers.
TIES ‘useful’ for Russia
U.S. President Joe Biden’s July visit failed to secure commitments from Saudi Arabia to increase oil production immediately or to take a harsher stance toward Putin, highlighting ongoing tensions. weighed heavily on relations between Washington and Riyadh.
Ali Shihabi, a pro-government commentator, said Saudi Arabia’s reconciliation in the release of prisoners “was a first”.
“I think the kingdom is messaging the West that its relationship with Russia can also serve a useful purpose for them,” Shihabi said.
“You need several countries to maintain relations with both sides.”
A Western diplomat said the POW deal had been in the works for months, but most of the diplomatic community in the Gulf had only heard about it in the final stages.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and British Prime Minister Liz Truss thanked the crown prince of Saudi Arabia for his role.
Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Institute of Arab Gulf States in Washington, said it was unusual for Saudi Arabia to deploy a diplomatic brokering strategy – one that has been well established for the Saudis. smaller Gulf states like Qatar to boost their relationship.
“It’s like alchemy – he (Crown Prince Mohammed) is turning his much-criticized relationship with Russia into gold,” Diwan said.