15 June 2024

World leaders to meet at Swiss resort on possible Ukraine peace roadmap

15 June 2024

The presidents of Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia will join many western heads of state and government and other leaders at a conference this weekend to plan the first steps towards peace in Ukraine, with Russia notably absent.

Swiss officials hosting the conference say more than 50 heads of state and government, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, will join the gathering at the Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne.

Some 100 delegations including European bodies and the United Nations will be on hand.

Who will show up, and who will not, has become one of the key stakes of a meeting that critics say will be useless without the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and is pushing ahead with the war.

US vice president Kamala Harris will attend, while Turkey and Saudi Arabia have sent their foreign ministers.

Key developing countries like Brazil, an observer at the event, India and South Africa will be represented at lower levels.

China, which backs Russia, is joining scores of countries that are sitting out the conference, many of whom have more pressing issues than the bloodiest conflict in far-away Europe since the Second World War.

Beijing says any peace process needs to have the participation of both Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.

Mr Zelensky recently led a diplomatic push to draw in participants.

Russian troops who now control nearly a quarter of Ukrainian land in the east and south have made some territorial gains in recent months.

When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace initiative began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large swathes of territory, notably near the cities of southern Kherson and northern Kharkiv.

Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategising, summit organisers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, such as at the Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and exchange of prisoners of war; and global food security, which has been disrupted at times because of impeded shipments through the Black Sea.

That to-do list, encapsulating some of the least controversial issues, is well short of proposals and hopes laid out by Mr Zelensky in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022.

Mr Putin’s government, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine’s neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russia-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push over the years to join the Nato military alliance has rankled Moscow.

With much of the world’s focus recently on the war in Gaza and national elections in 2024, Ukraine’s backers want to return focus to Russia’s breach of international law and a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The International Crisis Group, an advisory firm that works to end conflict, wrote this week that “absent a major surprise on the Burgenstock”, the event is “unlikely to deliver much of consequence”.

“Nonetheless, the Swiss summit is a chance for Ukraine and its allies to underline what the UN General Assembly recognised in 2022 and repeated in its February 2023 resolution on a just peace in Ukraine: Russia’s all-out aggression is a blatant violation of international law,” it said.

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