Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, becoming the first Saudi foreign minister to do so in 30 years. He met President Volodymyr Zelensky at his presidential residence, as well as Zelensky’s chief of staff and foreign minister.
Prince Faisal witnessed the signing of a joint cooperation agreement and memorandum of understanding between the two countries. The cooperation agreement will see the Kingdom send Ukraine $100 million worth of humanitarian assistance through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. The MoU includes financing $300 million worth of oil derivatives as a grant from the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Saudi Fund for Development given to Ukraine.
Given the circumstances and timing, Prince Faisal’s visit is doubtlessly exceptional, and the question here is: Why now? What message does it send? To find the answer, let us begin with the story of the minister’s arrival in Kyiv, which was narrated by Iman Shaikhain, a correspondent for the Saudi broadcaster Al Ekhbariya - a deeply indicative story that is not just a “feature.”
to Ms. Shaikhain, after Prince Faisal’s plane arrived in Poland, he and his accompanying delegation boarded their train and went on a 10-hour journey to the Ukrainian capital. The train departs “from Poland’s Western border and takes official delegations headed by leaders or officials heading to Ukraine.” She added that while this was a regular train before, it has now “become a mediator,” as it is “the only artery carrying the messages of Western leaders to Kyiv.” It has been boarded by President Joe Biden, the Polish and French presidents, the German chancellor, and British, Spanish and Italian prime ministers.
She told the Al Ekhbariya correspondent that “300 delegations have boarded this diplomatic “Warsaw-Kyiv” train.” And here is the story, the Saudi minister took the same train to Kyiv that other global leaders have been taking throughout the year-long war.
This means that Saudi Arabia arrived in Ukraine as other Western leaders did. It did not take an exceptional route, and this is significant. It means that Saudi Arabia is exercising its historical leadership role and that the Kingdom plays an important role in safeguarding global stability.
The visit also tells us that Saudi Arabia is balanced in its political positions and that it reinforces respect for international laws. The Kingdom defends the sovereignty of states against assault. That is why, days ago, it voted in favor of the United Nations Resolution that affirmed Ukraine’s territorial integrity and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country.
Before taking either of these steps, Saudi Arabia hosted two summits last year. One brought the Kingdom together with the US, and the other was a US-Gulf-Arab summit. It has also held a bilateral summit with China and another that brought China together with the Gulf and Arab states.
Accordingly, Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit is yet another step along Saudi Arabia’s unwavering diplomatic path toward bringing relief, stability, and the consolidation of peace to the world. Indeed, the Kingdom is playing a vigorous role internationally without being drawn into the game of political polarization. Saudi Arabia thus also enjoys a balanced relationship with the Russians.
Saudi Arabia’s position gives Riyadh its place and weight on the world stage. And so, we should not be surprised to see overwhelming praise for this visit. Most significantly, this visit is a reminder that Riyadh is a sovereign actor that makes its own decisions. It reaffirms the fortitude of Saudi Arabia’s political rationality, which is not only needed in the region but is also desperately needed today by the international community.