HomeGlobal Defence UpdatesWith Russia not attending, what can this weekend's Ukraine peace summit achieve?

With Russia not attending, what can this weekend’s Ukraine peace summit achieve?

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The “Summit on Peace in Ukraine”, hosted by Switzerland this weekend, is not a peace conference in the usual sense. Russia, which has dismissed it as irrelevant, won’t participate. And any summit aimed at ending the war can’t produce a final settlement without Russia’s involvement. Rather, the summit stems from a push by Ukraine to build wider support for “a path towards a just and lasting peace in Ukraine”. Specifically, it wants to build consensus around some basic principles for a future settlement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ten-point “peace formula”, first set out in November 2022, advocates some unobjectionable ideas. It also highlights the damage Russia’s invasion has inflicted on Ukraine, along with the dangers Russia poses to other countries.

The plan includes: nuclear safety (underlining the risks posed by Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as Russian nuclear sabre-rattling)

-food security (addressing the disruption of global food supplies caused by the invasion and the need for freedom of navigation from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports)

-energy security (highlighting Russia’s attacks crippling Ukraine’s energy infrastructure)

-the release of all Ukrainian prisoners and return of Ukrainian children deported to Russia (the subject of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court against President Vladimir Putin) -the restoration of Ukrainian territory to its pre-2014, internationally recognised borders -the full withdrawal of Russian military forces

-justice under international law, including a special tribunal to prosecute alleged war crimes and compensation for damage caused to Ukraine

-addressing environmental destruction caused by the war

-security guarantees for Ukraine against future Russian aggression

-a multilateral peace conference with a binding treaty to end the war.

Who is attending?

Ukraine has developed the proposal through informal meetings over the past 18 months. Host Switzerland says around 90 countries have agreed to attend out of 160 invited. Many European leaders will be there; the United States will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The summit is timed to follow immediately after this week’s G7 meeting in Italy. Ukraine hopes the G7 will build on its previous support for the war effort, particularly through action on reparations. This includes using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine’s reconstruction and defence.

Upcoming NATO and European Union summits in July will also be critical for securing assistance and progressing Ukraine’s membership aspirations in those bodies.

However, Ukraine’s main target audience at the summit will be countries of the “Global South”. It remains unclear how many of the bigger players, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, will be represented – or if they will send officials rather than leaders or ministers.

There are indications that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others, won’t be there, which will disappoint Ukraine.

China, which has become more closely aligned to Russia since the war started, has also said it won’t take part, given Moscow’s absence. Zelensky, in turn, has accused China of working with Russia to dissuade countries from attending.

What issues are most important on the agenda?

The Ukrainian government says it will prioritise nuclear safety, food security and the return of prisoners and child deportees at the summit. These likely offer the best prospects for consensus. The government feels it may need to move onto the other points gradually.

The Swiss have also downplayed expectations of major progress. They have suggested a second follow-up conference may be needed, in which Russia could be included.

Another major objective will be to reinforce support for the idea that any settlement must entail restoring Ukraine’s recognised borders, which Russia previously agreed to in a 2004 treaty.

To make this point, Ukraine invokes Article 2 of the UN Charter, requiring states not to use force against the territorial integrity of other countries.

This principle has been reinforced over the years by numerous UN Security Council resolutions, notably on the Israel-Palestine conflict, that affirm the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”. As I have argued elsewhere, the international community as a whole has consistently respected this stance on territorial conquest over the past 60 years.

In addition, at least 141 countries voted in three UN General Assembly resolutions in 2022 and 2023 to condemn Russia’s invasion and demand that it withdraw from Ukraine. Just a handful of nations voted with Russia against the resolutions.

Ukraine pursued the summit partly as a counter to proposals floated by some countries or individuals that imply Ukraine may have to lose territory permanently in any ceasefire agreement. This could include Crimea and the eastern Donbas region.

For Ukraine, however, this is more than just territory. Before the war, several million Ukrainians lived in these regions. Many have since fled, but those who remain are being subjected to a brutal occupation regime. For the Crimean Tatars, that is their only homeland.

Why is the Global South staying on the sidelines?

Despite many countries backing Ukraine’s position in the UN, most of the Global South has been reluctant to apply diplomatic or trade sanctions against Russia. Some oppose the idea of unilateral sanctions (that is, not endorsed by the UN).

Russia itself has been very active diplomatically in the Global South and is giving several countries military support, notably in Africa. As a result, many non-Western countries have hedged their bets. They do not want to get caught up in what they see as a fight between the West and Russia, backed by China.

Many of these governments and their people are also sceptical about Western invocation of a rules-based order. This stems in part from the West’s past unilateral actions, such as the 2003 Iraq invasion. Western support for Israel (or at least lukewarm criticism) over the Gaza war has only entrenched such scepticism.

So, what can we expect from the summit?

Russia says a full withdrawal of its troops is a non-starter for negotiations. And without Russian participation in the summit – and with questions over buy-in from the Global South – expectations are modest for major practical outcomes. Some reports say a draft statement may not even cover questions of territorial integrity.

Nevertheless, it will be a chance to put Ukraine’s plight back in the spotlight after months of focus on Gaza. It will also be a valuable step if the summit can strengthen global opposition to Russia’s territorial conquest.

As historian Yuval Noah Hariri puts it, non-Western powers should act to protect the international order – not out of obligation to the West, but for their own benefit, to prevent a new age of imperialism. (The Conversation) NSA NSA

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