POLITICS

World leaders meet in Switzerland to discuss a Ukraine peace roadmap. Russia is notably absent

Jun 15, 2024, 12:02 AM | Updated: 1:18 pm

OBBÜRGEN, Switzerland (AP) — Dozens of world leaders converged on a Swiss resort Saturday to discuss how to bring peace to war-ravaged Ukraine, though any hopes of a real breakthrough were muted by the absence of Russia.

More than two years into the war, the combatants remain as far apart as they’ve ever been, with Kyiv sticking to its demands that Russia leave all Ukrainian territory it has seized and Moscow pressing on with its grinding offensive that has already taken large swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s absence from the conference at the Bürgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that one measure of the two-day event’s success was “bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace.”

Attendees faced a tricky balancing act, with many chastising Russia for breaking international law while hedging their positions to leave the door open for Moscow to join future peace talks that might bring about an end to the conflict one day.

“Here, there are representatives from Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the Pacific, North America and religious leaders,” Zelenskyy said. “Now, there is no Russia here. Why? Because if Russia was interested in peace, there would be no war.”

“We must decide together what a just peace means for the world and how it can be achieved in a truly lasting way,” he said. “At the first peace summit, we must determine how to achieve a just peace, so that at the second, we can already settle on a real end to the war.”

About half of the roughly 100 delegations were led by heads of state and government. Analysts said turnout would be a key indicator about how much pull Ukraine and its staunch Western backers have with the broader international community.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday sought to cast a shadow over the Swiss-Ukrainian initiative for the conference. Some countries such as India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia that have retained ties, at times lucrative, with Moscow — unlike Western powers that have sanctioned Russia over the war — were also on hand.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, told the conference that credible peace talks will need Russia’s participation and require “difficult compromise.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, acknowledged the mistrust between Russia and Ukraine, saying “each side regards the other party’s steps (in floating proposals) as an extension of broader war effort.”

“Excellencies, I must also note that this summit could have been more results-oriented if the other party to the conflict — Russia — was present in the room,” he added.

Entering the venue, President Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania, a NATO member country that has been one of the most stalwart supporters of fellow former Soviet republic Ukraine, said Russian troops must leave Ukraine, and that Moscow must be held accountable for crimes there and pay reparations for the war damage.

“Right now it seems unrealistic, but I think we have to stay united, and if international society will push the Russian Federation, everything is possible,” he told The Associated Press. “I think the situation is very clear: Ukraine has to seek territorial integrity.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, representing the United States while President Joe Biden attended a fundraiser in California, reiterated America’s full backing for Ukraine and announced $1.5 billion in new U.S. assistance for an array of projects such as energy infrastructure and civilian security.

China, which backs Russia, joined scores of countries that sat out the event. Beijing has said any peace process would require the participation of Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.

In a separate initiative last month, China and Brazil agreed to six “common understandings” toward a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to play a role in promoting peace talks to be held “at a proper time” with both Russia and Ukraine involved.

The standoff over Ukraine is steeped in security for Europe — it is the continent’s deadliest conflict since World War II — and big-power geopolitics.

U.S. intelligence officials say China has increased sales of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology to Russia that Moscow is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry to fuel its war effort.

“What is clear is that China is not here, and I presume they’re not here because Putin asked them not to come and they obliged Putin,” said Biden’s top foreign policy advisor, Jake Sullivan. “And I think that says something about where China stands with respect to Russia’s war in Ukraine. I think countries should take notice of that.”

Harris and Sullivan both acknowledged that not all participants were on the same page about an eventual peace settlement.

Russian troops who control nearly a quarter of Ukraine have made territorial gains in recent months. When talk of the Swiss-hosted peace summit began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large tracts of territory, notably near the southern city of Kherson and the northern city of Kharkiv.

The conference centers on three agenda items — seen as the least controversial bits of a 10-point peace “formula” laid out by Zelenskyy: Nuclear safety, including at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant; possible prisoner of war exchanges; and global food security. The war has disrupted shipments of food and fertilizer through the Black Sea.

Zelenskyy’s plan also called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of Ukraine’s original borders with Russia, including Russia’s withdrawal from occupied Crimea. With Ukrainian mostly on the defensive these days, those appear to be increasingly distant hopes.

Putin 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 Russian-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push to join NATO over the years has rankled Moscow.

He wants Ukraine to drop its bid to join NATO and pull its forces out of regions that Russia illegally annexed in 2022.

“The situation on the battlefield has changed dramatically,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, noting that although Russia “can’t achieve its maximalist objectives quickly through military means,” it is gaining momentum on the battlefield.

As world leaders discussed a pathway to peace in Switzerland, the war ground on in Ukraine, where shelling killed at least three civilians and wounded 15 others on Friday and overnight into Saturday, regional officials said.

Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s southern Belgorod region, blamed Ukraine in a social media post for shelling that struck a five-story apartment building in the town of Shebekino on Friday, killing five people. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.

___

Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Joanna Kozlowska in London contributed to this report.

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World leaders meet in Switzerland to discuss a Ukraine peace roadmap. Russia is notably absent