Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia that “here among you” are people who “turn a blind eye” to Ukraine’s suffering, urging them to “take an honest look.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended the Arab League summit for the first time in a decade and was seen on camera in the conference room minutes ahead of Zelensky’s speech. Syria was only one of only two countries in the world (along with North Korea) to recognize Russia’s claimed annexations last year of four Ukrainian regions.
Speaking in English, Zelensky told his counterparts: “Look at how much suffering the long-term wars have brought to Libya, Syria, Yemen, how many lives have been wasted by years of fighting Sudan and Somalia, in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“I hope that most of us are here for the sake of peace and justice,” he said.
“Even if there are people here at the summit who have a different view on the war, on our land, calling it a conflict, I am sure that we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons. Unfortunately, there are some in the world, and here among you, who turn a blind eye to those cages and illegal annexations.”
“And I am here so that everyone can take an honest look, no matter how hard the Russians try to influence. There must still be independence. And I want to thank Saudi Arabia, I want to thank the majority of you, for supporting [inaudible] International positions and the UN Charter.”
Zelensky brought the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, with him on this trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“I am also sure all your nations will understand the main call I want to leave here in Jeddah, a noble call to all of you, to help protect our people, including Ukrainian Muslim community,” he said. “With me here is the Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, one of the indigenous peoples of Ukraine, whose home is Crimea, the center of Muslim culture in Ukraine.”
“For centuries the Crimean Tatar have been, and should remain, an integral and strong part of the Muslim community of the world," Zelensky added. "But Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation. And until now, most of those who are subjected to repression in the occupied Crimea are Muslims.”
Some context: Since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2021, Ukraine has launched multiple strikes against Russian positions in Crimea, which was previously annexed by Moscow in 2014 and is currently under Kremlin control.
Zelensky has repeatedly vowed to liberate Crimea, which he says remains “part of Ukrainian people and society."
Zelensky also met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and thanked him for inviting him to the Arab summit.
He said that during their bilateral meeting, he had outlined the Ukrainian Peace Formula, which demands the withdrawal of Russian forces from all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea.
He also noted the Saudi role in mediating the release of 10 foreign prisoners of war from Russian captivity.
“We are interested in continuing joint efforts to release people,” Zelensky said.
CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Mariya Knight and Heather Chen contributed to this post.