By obtaining the release of foreign fighters imprisoned in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has achieved diplomatic success and demonstrated to Western allies trying to isolate Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine the importance of the crown prince’s friendship with Russia, according to observers.
Intentionally or unintentionally, they argue, the project might also help Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman move closer to international rehabilitation after the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi tarnished his reputation.
Russia released 10 foreigners it had imprisoned in Ukraine on Wednesday thanks to Prince Mohammed’s intercession, including two Americans and five Britons.
The action, which was reportedly made feasible by Prince Mohammed’s carefully cultivated relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin, took place at the same time as a prisoner exchange involving 215 Ukrainians, 55 Russians, and pro-Moscow Ukrainians that Turkey assisted in arranging.
The working relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia appears to have been a key factor in the choice of intermediary, according to Kristian Ulrichsen, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.
In a way that contradicts the perception of the crown prince as an impulsive and disruptive player, Mohammed bin Salman is able to depict himself as capable of performing the role of a regional statesman by endorsing this mediation and achieving outcomes, according to Ulrichsen.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told the BBC that Saudi Arabia’s support in the prisoner release was driven by humanitarian concerns. He rejected the idea that the Crown Prince got involved to repair his reputation.
“That wasn’t taken into account. That’s a really cynical viewpoint, in my opinion “said he. The kingdom wanted a diplomatic resolution to the issue, he continued, and Riyadh was committed to working to make that happen.
Prince Faisal claimed that since April, when then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid a visit to the monarchy, the crown prince has been negotiating prisoner exchange with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“USEFUL” RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
The strains affecting the relationship between Washington and Riyadh were highlighted by US President Biden’s failure to obtain Saudi Arabian commitments for an urgent increase in oil supply or a stronger stance against Putin.
Commentator Ali Shihabi, who supports the regime, claimed that the Saudi intercession in the release of the inmates “was a first.”
Shihabi said, “I believe the kingdom was sending a message to the West that its connections to Russia can also be beneficial for them.
“You need some nations to keep in contact with both sides.”