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‘There’s no trust’ Did the Ukraine peace summit bring Moscow and Kyiv any closer to the negotiating table? Meduza reports from Switzerland.

Source: Meduza

Delegations from about 100 countries gathered in Switzerland for a Summit on Peace in Ukraine on June 15-16. On the eve of the conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward Moscow’s conditions for a ceasefire, demanding that Ukraine hand over four of its regions and formally renounce its plans to join NATO, and that the West lift sanctions against Russia. Both Ukrainian officials and representatives of Western countries rejected Putin’s demands and, as a result of the summit, signed a joint communiqué promising to “undertake concrete steps” towards a “dialogue between all parties.” Having attended the peace summit, Meduza special correspondent Elizaveta Antonova reports on what officials in Kyiv think it achieved. 

Ukraine invited more than 160 countries and international organizations to attend a peace summit at the Burgenstock resort in Switzerland on June 15–16. In the end, around 100 delegations attended the conference. Russia was not invited. 

China, notably, declined to attend. And despite sending its Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia was not among the 78 countries (and four international organizations) that signed the final joint communiqué. (Armenia, Bahrain, Columbia, Qatar, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates weren’t among the signatories either.) 

Gabriel Monnet / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Gabriel Monnet / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

The final communiqué only included three points from Kyiv’s 10-point peace formula: nuclear security, food security, and the release of war prisoners and deportees, including forcibly displaced Ukrainian children and unlawfully detained civilians. 

Speaking in Switzerland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that as many as 20,000 Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia. Asked about the odds of Russia agreeing to return these children to Ukraine, a member of the Ukrainian delegation told Meduza, “Russia must grasp the necessity of acting within the framework of international law, and our task is to do everything possible to make this happen.” 

“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties. We, therefore, decided to undertake concrete steps in the future in the above-mentioned areas with further engagement of the representatives of all parties,” the communiqué also says. 

Ukrainian Presidency / ABACAPRESS.CO / Scanpix / LETA
Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

According to Zelensky, the summit’s participants have already agreed to continue joint work at the level of advisers and ministers. He also assured that a second peace summit would happen sooner rather than later. “We are at war, and we don’t have time for prolonged work — moving to peace means acting fast, preparations will take months not years,” he said at the closing press conference. 

“It’s important that all participants of the summit supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity because there will be no lasting peace without territorial integrity,” Zelensky added. 

The long, hard road to peace

A senior Indian diplomat, Pavan Kapoor, told the New York Times that his country didn’t sign the summit’s final communiqué because “only those options acceptable to both parties can lead to abiding peace.” Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesperson Elisa Raggi told Meduza something similar. “A peace process without Russia’s participation is inconceivable,” she said. “Russia needs to be included in this process as it progresses.” 

“Switzerland and the countries of the Global South had a real desire to soften the wording and water down some of the positions that our society would like to see as integral,” a source close to Zelensky’s office told Meduza. According to this source, the organizers wanted to “formulate everything in the communiqué in such a way that there would be more space for negotiations with Russia — but this is only if Russia actually agrees [to talks] in the next stage.” 

This first peace summit, Raggi explained, should be seen “as a high-level conference that serves to create a jointly supported basis for future negotiations” — not as a forum for negotiations as such. “The road to a peace process is long and hard, and success isn’t guaranteed,” she underscored. 

Ahead of the peace summit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Kyiv has no intention of deviating from its peace formula. “There are tactics and there is strategy,” he argued. “Tactically, Ukraine is presenting three of the peace formula’s points at the first summit, but the strategic goal remains unchanged — the implementation of all [10] points.”

Alessandro Della Valle / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Urs Flueeler / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Whether peace talks are even possible at this stage in the war remained an open question at the end of the summit in Switzerland. In a closing speech, Swiss President Viola Amherd said, “One key question remains: when and how can Russia be included in this process?”

Vladimir Putin appeared to offer his point of view on this question on the eve of the summit, when he outlined Russia’s conditions for a ceasefire. The Russian president demanded Kyiv withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, and renounce its plans to join NATO. He also called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia. 

In response, Zelensky compared Putin’s demands to Adolf Hitler’s ambitions on the eve of World War II. “[These are] exactly the kind of things that Hitler would say,” Zelensky told Sky Italia. “He would say, ‘Give me a part of [Czechoslovakia] and the war will end,’ but he was just lying because after that came Poland; ‘Give me a part of Poland’ and then came the occupation of the whole Europe […] This is what Nazism is about and we can’t trust Putin because he’s on the very same path.” 

“Putin is not serious about ending the war,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the peace summit. “He is insisting on capitulation. He is insisting on Ukraine ceding its territory, even territory that today is not occupied by him. He is insisting on disarming Ukraine, leaving it vulnerable to future aggression. No country would ever accept these outrageous terms.”

Zelensky echoed this sentiment at the closing press conference. “Russia is not ready for a just peace — this is a fact,” he said. “[The Russian authorities] are proposing for Ukraine to withdraw from our territories, which are under our control. This suggests that Russia isn’t going to end the war.” “Russia can start negotiations with us even tomorrow without waiting for anything — if they leave our legal territories,” he added, in response to a question from journalists. 

‘Not on their terms’

Asked to comment on the Kremlin’s readiness to consider the summit communiqué, Meduza’s source close to Zelensky’s office gave a restrained response. “I think it will depend on the pressure on Russia from the countries gathered here,” he said. “Russia must understand that more than half the global community supports Zelensky’s peace plan.” 

Another member of the Ukrainian delegation told Meduza that, in his opinion, the Russian authorities “have realized it’s time to move towards a peace agreement, but aren’t ready to admit that this must be done not on their terms.” 

“Presumably, [international] mediators will take this communiqué and discuss it with Russia,” said another source close to Zelensky’s office. “But then Russia will start distorting everything once again.”

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According to this source, the only point of the communiqué that Russia and Ukraine could potentially reach an agreement upon is the issue of food security. “Grain is the only thing Russia may yield on because the harvest is bad this year. Everything froze. But again, they’ll demand the return of the previous grain corridor, where Russia check[ed] the ships,” he said. “So here again there will be a divergence of goals and fundamental views on peace.” 

A source close to Zelensky’s office said any peace talks with Russia are an extremely unlikely prospect right now: 

“Neither side is ready for this because there’s no trust. Ukraine is bothered by the lack of guarantees. Right now, no one can give a clear answer to the question of what to do so that [Russia] won’t attack again in three years. Not to mention the fact that losing territories will automatically become a burden on the shoulders of the current government. After 2014, no one wants to go down in history as the government that lost territory.” 

“It’s difficult to agree on anything with Russia right now,” Meduza’s source underscored. “The attack on our energy infrastructure was very traumatic for us. There’s no trust, no normal negotiating position.” 

Urs Flueeler / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

A week before the summit in Switzerland, a source close to one of Russia’s peace negotiators told Meduza that Moscow may propose finalizing the draft treaty discussed in Istanbul in the spring of 2022. According to this source, Putin is supposedly “very calm and convinced” that this could be a compromise option for both parties. 

According to this same source, however, Russia would expect Ukraine to consent to holding status referendums in the occupied territories over the next 15 years. Kremlin officials believe this would allow Kyiv to “save face” and Russia “not to advance further.” “The U.S. and Russia agree that there will be no nuclear confrontation; the European Union is a yes for Ukraine; NATO is a no,” the source said, listing Moscow’s other alleged conditions for a possible peace agreement. (Meduza has no further evidence to corroborate these claims.) 

Asked to comment on this information, a Meduza source in Kyiv said Russian officials could very well try to use the peace summit to revive the Istanbul talks, “but this is nothing more than their desire, which has little connection with reality.” “These negotiations have been strongly disavowed in Ukraine,” the source said, adding that any negotiations would have to start fresh. 

The way this source sees it, “stopping makes no sense” for Russia given the situation at the front — and it makes no sense for Ukraine to agree to conditions that would guarantee territorial losses. “With a clearly fixed deadline for holding referendums, it becomes clear that we [would] definitely have no chance of returning these territories in the next 15 years. And under conditions where Russia has real control [over these territories], we’re guaranteed to lose these lands.”


A slow crawl Russia is pressing forward with its offensive, but at the current pace, it could take over a year to reach any of its goals


A slow crawl Russia is pressing forward with its offensive, but at the current pace, it could take over a year to reach any of its goals

Story by Elizaveta Antonova with additional reporting by Svetlana Reiter

Abridged translation by Eilish Hart 

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