Diplomatic tour by Ukraine’s Zelenskyy highlights Putin’s stark isolation

May 19, 2023, 10:02 AM | Updated: 2:52 pm

In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets wit...

In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during the Arab summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

(Saudi Press Agency via AP)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — While the world awaits Ukraine’s spring battlefield offensive, its leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has launched a diplomatic one. In the span of a week, he’s dashed to Italy, the Vatican, Germany, France and Britain to shore up support for defending his country.

On Friday, he was in Saudi Arabia to meet with Arab leaders, some of whom are allies with Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, was in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, chairing a meeting with local officials, sitting at a large table at a distance from the other attendees.

The Russian president has faced unprecedented international isolation, with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant hanging over his head and clouding the prospects of traveling to many destinations, including those viewed as Moscow’s allies.

With his invasion of Ukraine, “Putin took a gamble and lost really, really big time,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “He is an international pariah, really.”

It was only 10 years ago when Putin stood proudly among his peers at the time -– Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe – at a Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland. Russia has since been kicked out of the group, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, for illegally annexing Crimea in 2014.

Now it appears to be Ukraine’s turn in the spotlight.

There were conflicting messages from Kyiv whether Zelenskyy would attend the G7 in Japan on Sunday. The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said on national television the president would be there, but the council later walked back those remarks, saying Zelenskyy would join via video link. The president’s office would not confirm either way for security reasons.

But whether in person or via video, it would be of great symbolic and geopolitical significance.

“It conveys the fact that the G7 continues to strongly support Ukraine,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s a visible marker of the continued commitment of the most highly industrialized and highly developed countries in the world.”

It also comes at a time when the optics are just not in the Kremlin’s favor.

There’s uncertainty over whether Putin can travel to South Africa in August for a summit of the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Moscow has long showcased the alliance as an alternative to the West’s global dominance, but this year it is already proving awkward for the Kremlin. South Africa, the host of the summit, is a signatory to the ICC and is obligated to comply with the arrest warrant on war crimes charges.

South Africa has not announced that Putin will definitely come to the summit but has been planning for his possible arrival. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed an inter-ministerial committee, led by Deputy President Paul Mashatile, to consider South Africa’s options with regard to its ICC commitment over Putin’s possible trip.

While it is highly unlikely the Russian president would be arrested there if he decides to go, the public debate about whether he can is in itself “an unwelcome development whose impact should not be underestimated,” according to Gould-Davies.

Then there are Moscow’s complicated relations with its own neighbors. Ten days ago, Putin projected the image of solidarity, with leaders of Armenia, Belarus and Central Asian states standing beside him at a Victory Day military parade on Red Square.

This week, however, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan flocked to China and met with leader Xi Jinping at a summit that highlighted the erosion of Russia’s influence in the region as Beijing seeks to make economic inroads into Central Asia.

Xi is using the opportunity “of a weakened Russia, a distracted Russia, almost a pariah-state Russia to increase (China’s) influence in the region,” Fallon said.

Putin’s effort this month to shore up more friends in the South Caucasus by scrapping visa requirements for Georgian nationals and lifting a four-year ban on direct flights to the country also didn’t appear to go as smoothly as the Kremlin may have hoped.

The first flight that landed Friday in Georgia was met with protests, and the country’s pro-Western president has decried the move as a provocation.

Zelenskyy’s ongoing world tour can be seen as a success on many levels.

Invitations from other world leaders is a sign they think Ukraine is “going to come out of the war in good shape,” said Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Otherwise, “it simply wouldn’t be happening,” he said. “No one would want to be around a leader they think is going to be defeated and a country that’s going to collapse.”

By contrast, the ICC warrant might make it harder for leaders even to visit Putin in Moscow because “it’s not a good look to visit an indicted war criminal,” Gould-Davies said.

European leaders promised him an arsenal of missiles, tanks and drones, and even though no commitment has been made on fighter jets – something Kyiv has wanted for months – a conversation about finding ways to do it has begun.

His appearance Friday at the Arab League summit in Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port on the Red Sea, highlighted Kyiv’s effort to spread its plight for support far and wide, including in some countries whose sympathies are with Russia.

In addition to Zelenskyy, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also welcomed Syrian President Bashar Assad at the summit after a 12-year suspension – something analysts say aligns with Moscow’s interests.

Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who focuses on Russia’s policy in the Middle East, called it “another testament to the fact that Russia is not isolated globally for its invasion of Ukraine, that the Middle East is one part of the world where Russia is able to find avenues to avoid global isolation – both ideological isolation but also economic isolation.”

She added that Zelenskyy and his government deserve credit for “in recognizing that they need to reach out more to improve their diplomatic efforts in this part of the world and other parts of the world where the Russian narrative resonates.”

Kyiv could expect that “this is the beginning of a larger shift in perception that could eventually translate into potential support,” Borshchevskaya said.

Similarly, the Ukrainian president’s participation in the G7 summit is “a message to the rest of the world, to Russia and beyond, and the so-called Global South,” Gould-Davies believes.

There is a concern in the West over the extent to which some major developing economies – Brazil, South Africa and, to a degree, India – “are not criticizing, not condemning Russia and indeed in various ways are helping to mitigate the impact of sanctions on Russia,” he said.

“Collectively, economically, they matter. So there is, I think, this felt need for a renewed diplomatic campaign to bring some of these most important states into the kind of the Western way of looking at these things,” Gould-Davies said.


Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa, contributed.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


Associated Press

US House panel investigates ties between US Interior secretary, environmentalists

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources are raising concerns about ties between Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and an Indigenous group from her home state that advocates for halting oil and gas production on public lands. The members on Monday sent a letter to Haaland requesting documents related […]

17 hours ago

FILE - Cows roam an area recently deforested in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, Acre state, Br...

Associated Press

Brazil’s Lula lays out plan to halt Amazon deforestation, make country “global reference” on climate

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva unveiled a plan on Monday to end illegal deforestation in the Amazon, a major campaign pledge that is a critical step in addressing the country’s significant carbon emissions from the region. This strategy, set to be implemented over four years, provides a roadmap to […]

17 hours ago

Sen. Fred Mills asks a question to members of The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Servi...

Associated Press

Louisiana Senate passes bill banning gender-affirming car for transgender youths

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A controversial bill — that at one point had been presumed dead — banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths in Louisiana was passed by the Senate on Monday and is likely to reach the governor’s desk in the coming days. The bill, which passed in the Senate mainly along […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

Chinese ex-official’s wife says alleged repatriation pressure turned her life in US ‘upside-down’

NEW YORK (AP) — A former Chinese official and his wife had left their homeland and kept their U.S. address private. Yet eight years later, two strangers were banging on their New Jersey front door and twisting the handle, the wife testified in a U.S. court Monday. When the men left and Liu Fang opened […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

CNN chief apologizes to employees for distracting from work

NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Licht, the embattled chief executive of CNN, apologized to network employees on Monday for distracting from their work and promised to “fight like hell” to earn their trust amid criticism of his year at the helm. Licht’s tenure hit a low point last week with publication of a lengthy, damaging […]

17 hours ago

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., arrives at a secure roo...

Associated Press

House Republicans ready contempt vote against FBI director Wray over document

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight Committee plans to move forward this week with holding FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress. Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer said a more-than-hourlong briefing he received Monday from bureau officials about an unverified law enforcement tip against President Joe Biden does not amount to […]

17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Diplomatic tour by Ukraine’s Zelenskyy highlights Putin’s stark isolation