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Swiss-hosted summit aims to start peace process for Ukraine

Washington — The Swiss-hosted Ukraine Peace Summit will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Burgenstock Resort on Lake Lucerne with about 90 countries participating. The Swiss government says the summit aims to “inspire a future peace process” that could eventually involve Russia and build a “just and lasting peace” for Ukraine rooted in international law.

It’s been nearly 28 months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, causing heavy casualties on both sides in a war that has displaced millions of Ukrainians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy initiated the summit to gather international support for his peace plan. The 10 points in Zelenskyy’s “peace formula” include the full withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including Crimea and Russian-occupied areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia has not been invited to the summit. The Swiss government says there was no invitation because Russia had no intention of attending. Moscow called a peace summit without its participation “futile.”

But Russia is not the only major player skipping the talks.

Who is attending? Who is absent?

China will also be absent from the summit.

China’s Foreign Ministry said at the end of May that Beijing “is hardly able to take part in the meeting” because a peace summit without Russia would not meet China’s expectations. Beijing said the peace conference “should have the recognition of Russia and Ukraine, equal participation of all parties, and fair discussion of all peace plans.”

China issued its “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis” in February 2023, touting it as a peace plan. But the 12 principles in the plan were just repeats of Beijing’s long-held positions that critics say are more favorable to Russia.

The United States and Ukraine have urged China to participate many times before.  Zelenskyy, at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, accused China of pressuring other countries to boycott the peace summit, which Beijing denied.

Kyiv has invited about 160 countries and organizations to attend the summit. The Swiss government said on Monday that about 90 countries — almost half of them from Europe — have confirmed their participation, and that most of the participants are heads of state or government.

Ukraine’s biggest ally, the United States, will send Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan. President Joe Biden will reportedly miss the summit due to a campaign fundraiser. Zelenskyy said Russian President Vladimir Putin would give Biden’s absence a “standing ovation.”

The White House told the media that the United States is a staunch supporter of Ukraine. In a June speech commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landing, Biden promised “we will not walk away” from Ukraine, connecting Europe’s World War II fight against Nazi invaders to Ukraine’s fight against Russian ones.

Also confirmed are leaders of the European Union, the European Commission, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Poland, Moldova, Ireland, Iceland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Croatia, Luxembourg, Cape Verde and Chile.

In addition to its Western allies, Kyiv has focused on inviting nations from the Global South — a term used to describe less-developed countries — and has made efforts to win their support for the summit. Compared with Western countries, most Global South countries are neutral or somewhat pro-Russian on the war.

Winning the support of these countries is key for Ukraine to pressure Russia in future talks. “The more such countries we have on our side … the more Russia will have to deal with this,” Zelenskyy said last month in an interview with AFP.

Turkey confirmed on Wednesday that it would send its foreign minister to the peace summit.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday it would send officials of “appropriate level” to the summit, while confirming that it would not be newly reelected Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have all confirmed their attendance, but with deputy ministerial-level officials instead of top leaders.

Invited countries that have not yet confirmed include Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Pakistan. Although Pakistan and Ukraine have strong defense cooperation, Russia is also an important oil supplier to the country.

What will be discussed?

The Swiss government says the main task of the peace summit is to drive the future peace process, including:

Beginning a dialogue on how to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Ukraine under international law and the U.N. Charter.
Promoting consensus on a possible “peace framework.”
Determining a roadmap on how to involve both Russia and Ukraine in the process.

 

Ukraine has said the summit will focus on three issues that could win the support of various countries and produce action plans: 

Freedom of navigation in the Black Sea, allowing Ukraine to export grains and protect global food security. 
Agreement on a call to stop the bombing of nuclear energy infrastructure. 
Release of all prisoners and the return of Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia. The International Criminal Court in March 2023 issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the abductions, which Russia has denied.

 

Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he expects many attendees to remain neutral on the war.

“Zelenskyy will want to turn the conference into an anti-Russian coalition,” he told VOA.  “However, some of the attendees may want to explore end states that are short of what Ukraine wants — for example, some sort of in-place cease-fire.”

Cancian said the peace summit’s final communique will be important because it will indicate whether Zelenskyy has sustained international support or whether “international desires for peace are overwhelming Ukraine’s desire for victory.”

Zelenskyy’s three issues for the summit are part of a 10-point peace plan announced in 2022 that includes the “nonnegotiable” point of restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  The territories include not only eastern and southern Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia since 2022 but also Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014.

Russia has rebuffed Ukraine’s peace proposals, saying it will not give up a single inch of Ukrainian territory it seized, which amounts to about a fifth of Ukraine’s total area.

Many analysts believe that Ukraine’s bargaining power in future negotiations with Russia depends mainly on its momentum in the war.

The Ukrainian army is currently facing pressure on the battlefield, compared to last summer’s offensive, with a shortage of ammunition and manpower and difficulty recruiting soldiers.

Shelby Magid, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said in an article, “There will ultimately be a time for diplomacy, but Ukraine needs to make significant progress militarily for the time to be right.”

But many Ukrainians and their overseas supporters warn that a deal that allows Russia to gobble up large swathes of Ukrainian territory by force would weaken the West and embolden Moscow to take similar actions in the future.

VOA’s Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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