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Nations meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss how the war in Ukraine might end

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

How might the war in Ukraine come to an end? Representatives of about 40 countries met in Saudi Arabia this weekend to talk about that.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Those attending included diplomats from the United States and the European Union, as well as India and China, but not Russia, of course. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says he wants the talks to lead to a peace summit this fall.

MCCAMMON: Joining us now to talk about those talks and much more from Kyiv is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So, Joanna, what did Ukraine get out of these talks?

KAKISSIS: So for the Ukrainians, these talks were about trying to convince countries that are on the fence about this war to be their friends. And we're talking about the countries that Steve mentioned earlier, like India and China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt. These countries have been careful to stay neutral because they don't want to anger Russia or the Western allies supporting Ukraine. But these fence sitters all pretty much showed up for this conference in Jeddah this weekend, and they heard President Zelenskyy's 10-point peace formula, one he's been shopping around the world. This formula includes the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian land, the release of all political prisoners and deportees, including children deported to Russia without their families, and for a tribunal to investigate what the Ukrainians say are tens of thousands of alleged Russian war crimes.

MCCAMMON: Joanna, these talks happened without Russia, of course, the country that invaded Ukraine and has waged war there for 18 months. How can you have any kind of peace settlement without them?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. That is the challenge, isn't it? Russia maintains that it is open to peace talks but on its terms, which means that Ukraine must accept, quote, "the new reality of its borders." Russia has illegally annexed the Ukrainian land it invaded and currently occupies and claims this land is part of Russia now. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Ukraine is historically part of Russia's sphere of influence. So it goes without saying that the Kremlin will not support Zelenskyy's peace plan. And remember, Putin held talks about a week ago with African nations in his own quest to secure friends, just like Ukraine tried to do this weekend with those fence sitters I mentioned earlier. In a video address to Ukrainians, President Zelenskyy said - perhaps too optimistically - that these countries may have different perspectives but are united by one thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) Everyone is united by the idea that international law must be a priority. And that's why Ukraine proposed this peace formula because the international rules-based order violated by Russian aggression must be restored.

KAKISSIS: The problem is not everyone agrees on interpretations of international law or what this rules-based order should look like.

MCCAMMON: And so what happens next? Are we expecting more talks?

KAKISSIS: Well, the Ukrainians hope so. That's for sure. They say they're happy with what happened this weekend in Jeddah. And even though nothing concrete came out of this meeting, the hosts - the Saudis - said in their closing statement that it's important to try to build common ground and pave the way for peace. Remember, this meeting was also an opportunity for the Saudis to raise their diplomatic profile internationally, while at the same time, trying not to anger Russia. And there are expected to be more meetings just like this one perhaps as early as this fall.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis, thank you so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.

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