Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support to Ukraine
JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with reality.
The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the beginning of hostilities. Pledges of aid have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.
A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s main humanitarian aid agency. Saudi Arabia.
About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated to be distributed through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
In April, King Salman ordered KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and to provide “urgent medical aid and shelter” to Ukrainian refugees, prioritizing those arriving in Poland.
Keeping the Kingdom’s promise during his visit to Poland, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, Advisor to the Royal Court and General Supervisor of KSrelief, also discussed the humanitarian situation with Polish, UNHCR and WHO officials, according to a report by the Saudi Press Agency. .
He said Al-Rabeeah visited several health establishments and facilities, taking time to talk to some Ukrainian refugees who had fled their war-torn country in Warsaw.
“Thank you very much and thank you to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.
“We all came from Ukraine and we were in a very bad state. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thank you very much and we wish peace to the whole world.
On the Polish-Ukrainian border, Al-Rabeeah praised the collaboration between WHO, KSrelief and the Polish government. “We highly value the partnership with WHO. Our work together has brought great support to refugees and those in need at home and abroad,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.
KSrelief has donated funds to support critical response efforts for Ukrainians in Poland, with the delivery of emergency medical supplies and equipment benefiting over one million people in need.
The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, but several reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia has chosen sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a as a member of OEPC+.
Despite political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.
A March report from the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank with ties to the US government, claimed that Saudi Arabia “decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high. .
The remarks came despite repeated offers from the Kingdom to mediate between warring parties and increase oil production with neighboring Gulf countries.
Differences between Western and Arab positions on how to end the war have not prevented either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.
For its part, Saudi Arabia reiterated that although ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is not an easy task, the Kingdom has treated the issue like any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.
In March, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to make every effort to mediate between the two nations.
In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.
Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to ensure security and stability. for all parties involved.
Although few details of Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers have been released, the trip has always been misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had chosen to remain neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and aiding the needy.
In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan further clarified the Kingdom’s position: “Our position as a Gulf country regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said in a June 1 speech. at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we expressed our unified position regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world” .
Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war must also be seen in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of more than 1,000 Saudis asked for their opinion, 14% blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21% blamed NATO.
While a large number of Saudi respondents expressed skepticism about NATO’s involvement in the conflict, 41% of Saudis said they didn’t know or weren’t sure who was to blame.
Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations and individual donors made pledges and pledges, some of which delivered to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between the support promised and that provided.
Until now, most Western governments have prioritized military assistance over humanitarian aid.
According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the United States pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest figure yet, but only allocated $8.9 billion. humanitarian aid.
According to the center, that number has since increased, but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid, but only $1.4 billion was diverted for humanitarian response and aid programs.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have had no illusions that the need to resolve the conflict is no less urgent than responding to the humanitarian emergency.
Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several issues of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.
Shortly after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the start that we support the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and the inadmissibility of the abuse of force, concerning the sovereignty of nations and respect for it,” he said. he declares.
“We called for a peaceful resolution to this issue; stop fighting and come to the negotiating table and settle your differences peacefully.
“The concern we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it things are more likely to spiral out of control and we are all paying the price.”
For good measure, Al-Jubeir said, “We reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We urged them to move towards a ceasefire agreement and to settle their conflict peacefully. We continue to engage with them, like a number of other countries, and we hope they will be able to recognize that it is better to argue with each other than to fight on the battlefield, due to the unintended consequences of war and conflict.
Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian donations, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.
On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi Ambassador to Poland, Al-Rabeeah of KSrelief visited UNHCR warehouses in Rzeszow, Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided under the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.