Ukraine Summit: The path to peace?

  • author, Sarah Rainsford
  • Role, Eastern European correspondent
  • Report from Bürgenstock, Switzerland

For two days, the hum of propellers shattered the peace on the Swiss mountainside, all in the cause of peace in Ukraine.

The helicopters were carrying world leaders and delegations to a summit held to chart a way to end the war waged by Russia against its neighbor.

It was an opportunity for Kiev to fight the full-scale invasion with full-scale diplomacy, Volodymyr Zelensky said, and to get as much support as possible for the peace plan that Ukraine has drawn up.

Ultimately, the idea is to present this plan to Russia with the international consensus behind it, and Moscow has no alternative but to accept it.

But this point, if possible, still seems far-fetched.

On the eve of the summit, Vladimir Putin made it clear that he had no intention of withdrawing his forces: his own “peace proposal” was a call for Ukraine’s surrender.

Moscow’s influence was felt even here in Bürgenstock.

Of the 90 countries represented at the meeting, only 84 countries signed the final statement affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its right not to be invaded.

Saudi Arabia, India and South Africa were among the countries that abstained from voting.

More serious was the absence of China, Russia’s close ally, from the entire summit, despite its participation in the early preparatory stages. Russia itself was not invited.

Comment on the photo, The summit was held over the weekend in Bürgenstock, Switzerland

The president brushed off questions about the signatories to the statement, saying those who did not support him here could still do so in the future. He noted that some countries were only represented at a low level this weekend, and that they needed to consult again in their capitals.

The summit took place at a difficult time for Ukraine on the battlefield.

Its forces are under pressure from the new Russian incursion around Kharkiv in the northeast of the country.

The Western military aid that Ukraine relies on to resist Russia remains frustratingly slow.

Zelensky told reporters at the end of the summit: “Is winning enough? No. Is it too late? Yes.”

But he said he still pushes for more and gets it on a daily basis.

So seizing the initiative on the peace proposal, and trying to shape the process, makes sense.

With US presidential elections later this year and rising votes in Europe for far-right parties, often sympathetic to Russia, support for Ukraine may decline in the coming months.

The country itself is also exhausted by more than two years of war: the rows of military graves in cemeteries across the country are growing and volunteers are no longer rushing to conscription offices in large numbers.

This does not mean that Kiev is giving up the fight.

“It is not because we are weaker that we are talking about peace,” President Zelensky said firmly when I put it to him.

The summit identified three areas as the least contentious for discussion: protecting food exports, securing nuclear sites in Ukraine, and accelerating the return of prisoners and children forcibly deported from occupied territories.

“The return of prisoners is a priority for us, because we know how our people suffer in Russian captivity,” explains Maxim Kolesnikov. The former soldier was detained for 11 months after his unit was seized in early 2022.

In Russia, he says he was beaten daily. Most of the other people in his cell were civilians.

But like Volodymyr Zelensky, he stressed that talking about peace does not mean surrender.

The soldier said on the sidelines of the summit, “When I was 37 years old, I came to war the first time, and I was 45 years old the second time. I don’t really want to go to war again when I reach 57 years old.”

“We want a strong peace while ensuring our independence and territorial integrity.”

There will be working groups to continue the Bürgenstock discussions away from this quiet place. But how this will expand into the peace plan envisioned by Ukraine and its host Switzerland is not really clear.

Both say a second leaders’ summit — which Ukraine has hinted might be hosted by Saudi Arabia — could, in principle, include Russia. The Swiss want to encourage this.

But Vladimir Putin has shown no real sign of his desire to seek peace.

The weekend summit ended somewhat abruptly several hours earlier than expected.

This was not an unreserved success for Ukraine.

Whether it is on the battlefield or in diplomacy.

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