New Ukraine peace push seeks Middle East and African partners

Russia and its ally China not attending weekend Swiss summit but 90 countries and organisations expected to be there

The lakeside Buergenstock resort in Switzerland will host this weekend's peace summit on Ukraine. AFP
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Diplomats leading a new peace push in Ukraine are looking to Middle East and African countries to help chart a way out of the two-year war.

About 90 countries and organisations are expected to attend a Ukraine peace summit taking place in Switzerland this weekend, which Russia is boycotting.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the Philippines in a round-the-world diplomatic spree to promote his peace plan.

The summit's Swiss organisers are also eager to maximise turnout, with talks planned on the war's food security fallout in a bid to boost global interest.

Swiss officials hope the lakeside summit will take a “first step” towards a peace process even though Russia and its ally China are not attending.

Although the final guest list will not be confirmed until Friday, about half will come from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, Swiss President Viola Amherd said.

They are seeking the support of “powerful countries” to help resolve the conflict.

All eyes will be on how potential mediators such as Turkey, Brazil and India, who maintain cordial ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, approach the talks.

India is taking part but has not confirmed whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is at the G7 summit in Italy on Friday, will attend.

Argentina's President Javier Milei is going from the G7 to the peace summit. Switzerland expects Turkey to take part at some level, while Brazil and South Africa have not confirmed either way.

US President Joe Biden is sending his Vice President Kamala Harris to the peace talks. The leaders of the UK and Germany will be among senior European and Nato representatives.

Mr Zelenskyy will use the summit to promote a 10-point “peace formula” which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Two of his points, concerning global food security and nuclear safety, will be addressed in the talks along with the war's humanitarian fallout.

The fighting between two of the world's top agricultural producers has damaged grain exports and Black Sea shipping lanes, sending food prices spiralling in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

The Kremlin has raised global alarm with what Ukraine's allies say is dangerous nuclear rhetoric and risky military manoeuvres near the Zaporizhzhia atomic plant.

Neither side has shown signs of backing down militarily although there has been relatively little movement on the front lines for more than a year.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said it would be “an illusion to pretend that all will be clear and on Saturday evening we can celebrate peace”.

But “until Saturday, nothing exists. No dynamic exists on the planet to find a way,” he said. “On Saturday and Sunday, this dynamic will be launched.”

Peace principles

It is hoped a joint declaration by the 90 countries could sketch out the beginnings and basic principles of a peace process.

“What we can achieve by way of agreement is a recognition of international law, that there can be no peace dictated by Russia,” one German official said.

“If the signal goes out from the conference to Ukraine, to Russia but to the rest of the world too that a large part of the international community can agree on these principles, then progress has been made.”

Russia says the summit is intended to take a pro-Ukrainian stance and has made clear to Swiss officials that it does not want to participate.

About 4,000 military personnel will be deployed around the Buergenstock resort amid high security and fears of cyberattacks.

Gennady Gatilov, Russia's envoy to UN agencies in Geneva, said the West had “no apparent desire” to enter negotiations.

He said Russia did not consider Switzerland – which has adopted EU sanctions on Moscow – a neutral country capable of hosting peace talks.

“No one in Buergenstock will be engaged in seeking real diplomatic solutions to the Ukrainian crisis, nor can they. The only beneficiary of this gathering will be the hotel industry,” he said.

China has also declined to take part despite extensive European lobbying, saying it will not attend in the absence of Russia.

European officials have not ruled out that Brazil or Turkey, which maintain cordial relations with Russia, could play a mediating role in future.

“There can’t be a peace process without Russia. We need to say that very clearly,” Mr Cassis said. “The question isn’t whether Russia will be on board but the question is when Russia will be on board.

“We are taking this first step. Then we’ll follow with the second step … then we can see at what moment we can have Russia join this process.”

Updated: June 13, 2024, 4:08 PM