Ukraine-Russia: Boris Johnson promises to ‘stick to principles’ on Saudi Arabia visit as Ukraine compare crisis to 9/11
The Prime Minister was visiting the Gulf state and its neighbour, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Wednesday in a bid to wean the West off Russian energy in response to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, Mr Johnson downplayed his chances of securing greater oil production from the Middle East in an attempt to lessen the severity of the cost-of-living crisis facing the UK.
It came on a day in which Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky compared the crisis to 9/11 but “every day”.
Arriving at the royal court in Riyadh, Mr Johnson smiled and warmly shook hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just days after the largest mass execution in the kingdom in modern history.
At his first stop in Abu Dhabi, Mr Johnson insisted he has raised the two countries’ poor human rights records “many, many times”, adding: “I’ll raise them all again today.”
He pointed towards Saudi Arabia announcing a £1 billion investment in green aviation fuel in Teesside.
The Prime Minister added: “That’s the kind of thing we want to encourage – doesn’t in any way mean we can’t stick to our principles and raise those issues that we all care about.”
But he appeared pessimistic he would be able to open up the spare capacity of the Saudi-led Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to soften the blow of divesting from Russian fossil fuels.
“It’s not just a question of looking at the Opec countries and what they can do to increase supply, though that is important,” Mr Johnson said. “There’s also the issue of Emirati investment in UK wind farms, already huge – what more can they do?
“When we look at the dependency the West in particular has built up on Putin’s hydrocarbons, on Putin’s oil and gas, we can see what a mistake that was, because he’s been able to blackmail the West and hold western economies to ransom.
“We need independence.”
Mr Johnson pledged his long-awaited energy strategy would come “next week” and include a “massive jump forward on renewables, more nuclear, using our own hydrocarbons more effectively” and sourcing fuel from outside Russia.
However, Downing Street’s account of the meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed did not say whether the Prime Minister raised human rights concerns with the UAE’s crown prince, nor did it contain any indication Mr Johnson secured any kind of commitment on increasing oil production.
A No. 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister set out his deep concerns about the chaos unleashed by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and stressed the importance of working together to improve stability in the global energy market.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters the “PM raised human rights issues”, but added “I don’t have any more details”, leaving open to interpretation the extent to which they discussed abuses.
His visit comes despite the Crown Prince being implicated in the assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Saudi Arabia executed 81 people on Saturday convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said three more individuals had been executed on the day of Mr Johnson’s visit.
Maya Foa, the director of human rights advocacy group Reprieve, said: “By travelling to meet Mohammed bin Salman so soon after a mass execution, Boris Johnson clearly signalled that in return for oil, the UK will tolerate even the gravest human rights abuses.
“Carrying out these executions while the leader of a western power is on Saudi soil was a provocative act, designed to flaunt the Crown Prince’s power and impunity to the world.”
Thursday also saw President Zelensky appeal to the US Congress for help, telling US lawmakers "we need you right now" as he invoked tragedies in American history like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attack.
Calling for aid, Mr Zelensky said: "Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you.
"Just remember it, remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn US cities into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from air, just like nobody else expected it and you could not stop it.
"Our country experiences the same, every day, right now at this moment."
US President Joe Biden responded by announcing £610 million in military aid.
The day also saw International Court of Justice (ICJ) judges order Russia to suspend military operations in Ukraine.
Judges declined to order Russia to report back on progress, but international legal obligations oblige Russia to comply.
President Zelensky claimed it as "a complete victory" and said if Russia ignored the order, it would be further isolated.
The Russian Federation was also thrown out of the Council of Europe, which aims to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent.
The trip came as the UK's defence secretary Ben Wallace once again rejected President Zelensky's call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Mr Wallace added: "We've been consistent all along, we're not going to take that step".
Wednesday also saw Russian forces kill ten people standing in line for bread in Chernihiv.
Russian state television saw a flurry of resignations after Marina Ovsyannikova's on-screen protest, with three more journalists quitting in protest.
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