Swiss talks on Ukraine a first step - GulfToday

Swiss talks on Ukraine a first step


Volodymyr Zelensky (centre) and world leaders pose for a family photo in Stansstad, Switzerland, on Saturday Reuters

The two-day weekend international summit at Buergenstock in Switzerland, attended by representatives of 90 countries, has been billed as “Summit on Peace in Ukraine”, which was not attended by China among other countries, and rejected by Russia could readily be dubbed as a “non-starter”. The summit was organized by Switzerland and Ukraine, and it seemed more as a way of marshalling support for Ukraine beyond Europe and the United States. And this was confirmed indirectly by the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said, “It’s going to take international pressure. It’s going to take spotlight from the international community – and not just from the voices in United States or Europe – but from unusual voices, as well, to say what Russia has done here is morally reprehensible and must be reversed.”

The stance of the summit was unambiguous that Russia was the invader and Ukraine was victim, which is a slightly unusual way of starting a peace conference where a more tactful formulation would have helped. But the sponsors of the summit – Switzerland and Ukraine – made it amply clear that this was a conference meant to pressurize Russia to come to the negotiating table, and that Moscow should take moral responsibility for invading Ukraine. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez put it clearly: “One thing is clear in this conflict: there is an aggressor, which is Putin, and there is a victim, which is the Ukrainian people.” It is indeed the factual position. What is doubtful is whether stating it would be the best opening move in a conference that wants to bring peace.

No one expected that the conference to end the war in any quick manner. It is now projected that the Swiss peace conference is a step towards another peace conference. This s just the first step. That is why, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer cautioned: “Just to manage expectations, please. The crucial takeaway is that we’ve all come here, that we’re talking, that many different nations and continents are talking to each other… This is the essence of this conference…Peace and peace processes take time, working millimetre by millimetre.”

It is understandable that Russia, which has been kept out of the conference, is dismissive of the whole effort. Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev said, “None of the participants in the “peace forum” knows what he is doing there and what his role is.”

But the basic terms of the conflict resolution have been stated in the draft communique about respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The issues of what should be a post-war configuration has been left untouched because is one of the most difficult issues. In the peace initiative stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin it was said that Ukraine must give away the smaller republics which Russia has declared part of its territory like Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia with its nuclear plant. The conference on the other has said that Zaporizhzhia and the Azov ports should be restored to Ukraine. It is inevitable that Ukraine and Russia would stick to their basic demands, basic from their respective perspective, and it will be a slow and painful process in reaching an agreement.

It is evident that the peace initiative cannot move forward without the presence of Russia. The last time Ukrainian and Russian representatives came face-to-face was when the United Nations and Turkiye brokered the grain export from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in November, 2022. And the Ukrainian delegates refused to sign an agreement with Russia because they did not want to deal with the Russians directly. There are many hurdles then even to bring the two sides to the negotiating table. It is to be hoped that the peace conference in Switzerland would move forward.

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