Zelensky seeks show of support at giant Swiss summit

By Sarah RainsfordEastern Europe correspondent

EPA Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky steps toward a limousine after landing in Obbuergen near the Buergenstock Resort, ahead the Summit on Peace in Ukraine, in Stansstad near Lucerne, Switzerland,EPA

Mr Zelensky put forward his own 10-point plan for peace in late 2022

This weekend, a secluded Swiss resort above Lake Lucerne will be transformed as dozens of world leaders and thousands of soldiers and police descend on Bürgenstock.

More than 90 countries and global institutions are attending the event, which aims to reach agreement on basic principles for ending the conflict in Ukraine.

The Swiss hope that the Ukraine summit might produce the first tentative sketch marks for a peace process, some 28 months after Russia invaded its neighbour.

It is the biggest 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 that a peace proposal – expectations of significant progress are low.

Russia has not been invited.

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

Politicians in Kyiv have been hailing every confirmed participant as a gesture of support. For them, the giant summit should demonstrate to Moscow that the world stands on the side of Ukraine – and of international law.

Reuters A side profile of Vladimir Putin with a stern expression, his face partially shadedReuters

The Russian president issued a new ultimatum which involves the surrender of land

It comes at a tough time.

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

So size matters when it comes to the summit. But so does the substance.

“It’s important to establish a political and legal framework for future peace. To show that peace can only be achieved in the framework of Zelensky’s 10 points,” Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Merezhko sets out the case from Kyiv. “That includes the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its sovereignty.”

He is referring to a peace formula put forward in late 2022 by Ukraine’s president that insists on compelling Russia to return all the occupied land.

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

Right now, that looks unlikely.

This summit was first mooted when the situation on the battlefield looked more promising for Kyiv: a prime time to try to shape the terms of any future peace deal.

Since then the dynamic has shifted.

Reuters Firefighters work at a site of a household item shopping mall hit by a Russian air strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, UkraineReuters

Kharkiv, where this shopping centre is, has been affected by Russian air strikes in recent weeks

“I think the constituency that believes this may not be a war that’s winnable for Ukraine is growing,” argues Sam Greene of the Centre for European Policy Analysis, or CEPA.

He points to a “significant chunk” of the US foreign policy establishment who believe Ukraine should “cut its losses”, as well as the rise in support in Europe for right-wing parties more sympathetic to Moscow.

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

But the turnout is less promising than Ukraine and Switzerland once hoped.

Reuters  U.S. President Joe Biden claps hands next to U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris while hosting a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. June 10, 2024.Reuters

The US president is notable by his absence from the event, but Vice-President Kamala Harris (L) is attending

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

India, Brazil and China are all either no-shows or sending low level representatives.

Russian officials have been lining up to dismiss the event as insignificant. It is “worthless” and a “dead end”, according to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But Moscow has been pushing its allies to boycott the summit nonetheless.

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

On the eve of the event, Vladimir Putin tried to drop another spanner in the works by outlining his own conditions for a supposed peace: the man who invaded Ukraine, unprovoked, now wants Kyiv to capitulate.

Amongst other things, Mr Putin demands Ukraine hand over all four regions that Russia claims to have annexed, including areas that remain under Kyiv’s control.

Kyiv dismissed that right away as “ludicrous”.

The meeting on Lake Lucerne will home in on three of the least contentious points in President Zelensky’s peace formula: the issues of nuclear security, getting food to global markets and getting abducted Ukrainian children and prisoners back home.

Straying beyond that is unlikely to be productive.

Not right now, when neither Ukraine nor Russia is ready to give up the fight.

“I think from the Ukrainian perspective, looking at what’s going on the frontlines, what they really need is not a commitment to peace, certainly not at any cost,” Sam Greene argues, of Kyiv’s allies.

“They need a commitment to winning the war.”

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