Zelensky seeks show of support at huge Swiss summit

By Sarah Rainsford, Eastern Europe correspondent

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky walks towards a limousine after landing in Obbuergen, near the Buergenstock Resort, ahead of the Ukraine Peace Summit in Stansstad, near Lucerne, Switzerland.EPA

Zelensky presented his own 10-point plan for peace by the end of 2022

This weekend, an isolated Swiss resort on Lake Lucerne will be transformed when dozens of world leaders and thousands of soldiers and police arrive in B├╝rgenstock.

More than 90 countries and global institutions are attending the event, which aims to discuss the basic principles of ending the conflict in Ukraine.

The Swiss hope the Ukraine summit can produce the first tentative outlines for a peace process, some 28 months after Russia invaded its neighbor.

It is the largest gathering for Ukraine since the full-scale invasion.

But with key players like China staying away and Russian President Vladimir Putin issuing a new ultimatum (demanding Ukraine’s capitulation and calling it a peace proposal), expectations for significant progress are low.

Russia has not been invited.

For Ukraine, the mere fact that this meeting is taking place is positive.

kyiv politicians have greeted each confirmed participant as a gesture of support. For them, the gigantic summit should demonstrate to Moscow that the world is on the side of Ukraine and international law.

Reuters A side profile of Vladimir Putin with a stern expression and his face partially shadowed.Reuters

The Russian president issued a new ultimatum that involves the delivery of land

It comes at a difficult time.

There has been a new Russian offensive in the northeast, near Kharkiv, and missiles are hitting homes and power plants across Ukraine with renewed intensity.

That’s why size matters when it comes to the summit. But so does substance.

“It is important to establish a political and legal framework for future peace. Show that peace can only be achieved within the framework of Zelensky’s 10 points,” explains Ukrainian deputy Oleksandr Merezhko from kyiv. “That includes the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its sovereignty.”

It refers to a peace formula presented at the end of 2022 by the president of Ukraine that insists on forcing Russia to return all occupied lands.

Ukraine now wants to rally as many countries as possible behind its formula, putting “psychological pressure” on Russia to accept those terms, should it reach that stage.

At this point, that seems unlikely.

This summit was first mooted when the situation on the battlefield looked most promising for kyiv: a prime moment to try to shape the terms of any future peace agreement.

Since then the dynamic has changed.

Reuters Firefighters work at a home goods shopping center hit by a Russian airstrike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine.Reuters

Kharkiv, where this shopping center is located, has been affected by Russian airstrikes in recent weeks

“I think there is a growing electorate that believes this may not be a war that Ukraine can win,” argues Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

He points to a “significant portion” of the American foreign policy establishment that believes Ukraine should “cut its losses,” as well as increasing support in Europe for right-wing parties most sympathetic to Moscow.

“I think one thing this event aims to do is galvanize support behind Ukraine’s vision of an acceptable outcome,” Professor Greene says.

But participation is less promising than Ukraine and Switzerland once hoped.

Reuters US President Joe Biden applauds alongside US Vice President Kamala Harris as he hosts a June 16 concert on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, US, June 10, 2024 .Reuters

The American president stands out by his absence at the event, but Vice President Kamala Harris (left) does attend.

Joe Biden will not come in person, a decision that upset Zelensky. And attempts to get key countries from the “Global South” – not Ukraine’s instinctive allies – on board were only partially successful.

India, Brazil and China did not show up or sent low-level representatives.

Russian officials have been lining up to dismiss the event as insignificant. It is “useless” and a “dead end”, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But Moscow has still been pressuring its allies to boycott the summit.

“This is a negative point,” admits Oleksandr Merezhko. “It seems that China decided to support its strategic partner, Russia, without limits, not the peace process: the aggressor, not the peace.”

On the eve of the event, Vladimir Putin attempted to put another brake on the process by outlining his own conditions for a supposed peace: the man who invaded Ukraine, without provocation, now wants kyiv to capitulate.

Among other things, Putin demands that Ukraine hand over the four regions that Russia claims to have annexed, including areas that remain under kyiv’s control.

kyiv immediately dismissed this as “ridiculous.”

The meeting in Lake Lucerne will focus on three of the least contentious points of President Zelensky’s peace formula: the issues of nuclear security, the arrival of food to world markets and the return home of children and prisoners. kidnapped Ukrainians.

Going beyond that is unlikely to be productive.

Not now, when neither Ukraine nor Russia are willing to give up the fight.

“I think from the Ukrainian perspective, considering what’s happening on the front, what they really need is not a commitment to peace, and certainly not at any cost,” argues Sam Greene, referring to kyiv’s allies.

“They need a commitment to win the war.”

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