June 7, 2023

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Zelensky’s diplomatic tour of Ukraine highlights Putin’s blatant isolation

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — As the world awaits Ukraine’s battlefield offensive in the spring, Its leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, launched a diplomatic campaign. Within a week, he rushed to Italy, the Vatican, Germany, France and Britain to gather support for the defense of his country.

It was Friday in Saudi Arabia To meet Arab leaders, some of whom are allies of Moscow.

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

The Russian president faced unprecedented international isolation, with an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court It hangs over his head and clouds travel prospects to many destinations, including those seen as allies of Moscow.

With his invasion of Ukraine, “Putin risked and lost really big time,” said Teresa Fallon, director of the Brussels-based Center for Russia and Europe Studies. “He’s an international pariah, really.”

Only 10 years passed when Putin stood proudly among his peers at the time – Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe – at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Russia has since been expelled from the group, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, for illegally annexing Crimea in 2014.

Now it seems that Ukraine’s role is in the spotlight.

There have been conflicting messages from Kiev about whether Zelenskyy will attend the G7 in Japan Sunday. The Minister of National Security and the Defense Council of Ukraine said on national television that the president would be present, but the council later retracted those remarks, saying that Zelensky would join via video link. The President’s Office did not confirm either case for security reasons.

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

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“It conveys the fact that the G-7 continues to be a strong supporter of Ukraine,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It is a clear sign of the continued commitment of the world’s most advanced and industrialized nations.”

It also comes at a time when optics are not in favor of the Kremlin.

There is uncertainty about whether Putin can travel to Cape Town in August for the BRICS summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Moscow has long offered the alliance as an alternative to Western world domination, but this year has already proved awkward for the Kremlin. South Africa, the host of the summit, is a signatory to the International Criminal Court and is required to comply with the arrest warrant on war crimes charges.

South Africa has not announced that Putin will definitely attend the summit but has been planning his possible arrival. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a ministerial committee chaired by Vice President Paul Machattel to consider South Africa’s options regarding ICC compliance over Putin’s possible trip.

While the Russian president is unlikely to be caught 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 complex relations with its neighbours. Ten days ago, Putin showed a picture of solidarity with the leaders of Armenia, Belarus and Central Asian countries standing next to him at a Victory Day military parade on Red Square.

But this week, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan flocked to China and met leader Xi Jinping at a summit that highlighted Russia’s eroding influence in the region as Beijing seeks an economic path in Central Asia.

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Fallon said Xi is using the opportunity of “weak Russia, fragmented Russia, almost pariah state Russia to increase its (China’s) influence in the region.”

Putin’s efforts this month to support more friends in the South Caucasus by eliminating visa requirements for Georgian citizens and lifting a four-year ban on direct flights to the country have not gone as smoothly as the Kremlin had hoped.

The first flight, which landed Friday in Georgia, was met with protestsThe country’s pro-Western president denounced the move as provocative.

Zelenskyy’s ongoing world tour can be considered successful on several levels.

O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said the calls from other world leaders are a sign they believe Ukraine will “emerge from the war well-placed”.

Otherwise, “it simply won’t happen,” he said. “Nobody wants to be around a leader they think will be defeated and a country that will collapse.”

By contrast, the ICC arrest warrant could make it difficult for leaders to even visit Putin in Moscow because “it’s not a good idea to visit an accused war criminal,” Gould-Davies said.

European leaders promised him an arsenal of missiles, tanks and drones, and despite making no commitment on fighter jets — something Kiev has wanted for months — he has begun talking about finding ways to do so.

His appearance on Friday at the Arab League summit in Jeddah, a Saudi port on the Red Sea, highlighted Kiev’s efforts to publicize its plight for support far and wide, including in some countries that sympathize with Russia.

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

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Anna Borchevskaya, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute who focuses on Russia’s policy in the Middle East, called it “further proof of the fact that Russia is not isolated globally because of its invasion of Ukraine, and that the Middle East is a part of the world where Russia is able to find ways to avoid global isolation.” – Both ideological isolation but also economic isolation.”

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

Borchevskaya said Kiev can expect that “this is the beginning of a larger shift in perception that could eventually translate into potential support.”

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

There is concern in the West about the extent to which some of the major developing economies – Brazil, South Africa, and to some extent India – do not criticize Russia, do not condemn it, but help in various ways to mitigate the impact of sanctions on Russia.

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

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

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