Saudi Foreign Minister defends role in securing prisoner swap in Ukraine | Saudi Arabia

It would be cynical to view Saudi Arabia’s efforts to release international prisoners held by Russian proxies in Ukraine as an attempt to improve the country’s image after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the foreign minister has said. Business said.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud said Friday that Riyadh first approached the British government in April, shortly after Aiden Aslin, a British citizen, and others were imprisoned in Mariupol, acting out of compassion, hoping to negotiate their settlement. release.

Asked if it was a rare opportunity to restore relations with the West, the minister said: “I think that’s a very cynical view. What we saw, what the leaders of the kingdom saw, was an opportunity to make a humanitarian breakthrough to facilitate the return of these prisoners to their families. And that is the motivation.”

Saudi Arabia, which has tried to take a softer stance on Russia after the war broke out, has previously said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in a major diplomatic effort that also involved the Chelsea’s former owner and billionaire. football club appeared to be involved. Roman Abramovich.

One of the five released Britons, Shaun Pinner, recognized Abramovich on the plane taking them from Russia to Riyadh earlier this week and approached him to ask if he was the football club’s former owner, according to a report in the Sun.

Another freedman, John Harding, told of the exchange that followed between the two men. “He went up to him on the plane and asked where he was from and Roman said ‘London’.

“Then Shaun said, ‘You really look like Roman Abramovich’ and he replied, ‘That’s because I’m him, sir.’ He couldn’t believe it.”

Five Britons were among 10 people to face the death penalty for pro-Russian separatists who were unexpectedly released earlier this week. They had all been accused of fighting as mercenaries on behalf of Ukraine and had been tried in violation of the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war.

Aiden Aslin, 28, returned to his family home near Newark on Thursday, as did the other Britons, including Pinner, whom he was on trial with in June. Aslin, Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, also released this week, were sentenced to death in an internationally condemned verdict.

Abramovich did not confirm the reports, but the billionaire, who was forced to sell Chelsea after Russia invaded Ukraine, had appeared at failed peace talks between the two sides in Istanbul in March. He is not on the US sanctions list, partly because Ukraine has told Washington that he is acting as a mediator.

Prince Faisal said the mediation was “an initiative” led by Bin Salman and dates back to April. “We heard about the issue of these foreign detainees and he went into talks with the UK and others and of course with Russia and Ukraine, to work at the end to get them out,” the Foreign Secretary added.

The Saudi minister said the deal to exchange the 10 foreigners is linked to a separate, larger deal to exchange prisoners between Ukraine and Russia. “That exchange did not take place until the 10 nationals arrived in Saudi territory and were verified and that the other exchange could go ahead,” Prince Faisal said.

That implied that Ukraine had wanted Russia to show good faith before releasing pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 other prisoners in exchange for 200 soldiers and five commanders from the Azov battalion that led the defense of Mariupol. That deal also included mediation from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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