Objectives clearly missed

The Swiss-hosted Ukraine “peace summit” was a failure: far fewer participants than planned; heavyweights of the Global South not signing the final declaration; Ukraine not emerging in “a position of strength”.

BERLIN/BERN/KIEV (own report) - The Ukraine conference in Switzerland, announced with great fanfare in the West, turned out an abject failure on key points. A huge effort was expended on staging the event. More than 160 invitations were made but, despite diplomatic pressure, only 92 countries and eight international organisations managed to attend. The European Union alone appeared in three different guises (Commission, Council and Parliament) along with all the member states. The final declaration was signed by only 78 states. The heavyweights of the Global South – such as India, Brazil, South Africa and Saudi Arabia – refused to participate. The outcome falls well short of the conference goals pursued by Western governments. The so-called “peace summit” was designed to create an overwhelming majority in favour of Kiev’s demands, thus applying mounting diplomatic pressure on Moscow and placing Ukraine, politically, in a “position of strength” for any future peace talks. Last year, the West tried to achieve its goals on the battlefield through military aid, but the Ukrainian military offensive failed.

“From a position of strength”

There has been a series of meetings, beginning in late June last year, in the run up to this Ukraine Conference in Switzerland – first in Copenhagen,[1] then in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia [2], in the Maltese capital Valletta [3] and most recently in Davos, in January. Launched on the initiative of the West, the intention has always been to build a united diplomatic front as an accompaniment to military offensives. The plan was for Ukrainian forces to inflict at least some severe blows on Russia. Then, it was hoped, the Russian position would be weakened and Kiev could enter into negotiations with Moscow on an early end to the war from a position of strength.[4] The plan backfired because the Ukrainian offensive failed, and in the meantime it is clearly Russia who have gone on the offensive militarily. With Ukraine threatened with imminent defeat, the West has been releasing weapons for strikes deep into Russian territory and even readying for Western troop deployments.[5] At present, however, Kiev is further away than ever from the desired military “position of strength”.

Diplomacy as a substitute

Against this background, the idea has emerged of manoeuvring Ukraine, if not militarily, then at least politically into a position of strength. The Swiss conference, talked up as a supposed “peace summit”, seemed an ideal opportunity. The centrepiece of the conference was to be Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s so-called peace formula. This is simply a list of demands that include Russia’s unconditional withdrawal from all territories occupied since 2022 and from Crimea, the payment of reparations, and the extradition of actual or alleged Russian war criminals. Such maximalist demands would only have any chance of success in the event of Russia’s unconditional surrender. Yet the aim at the conference was to rally as many states as possible – especially government leaders from the Global South – behind Zelenskyy’s “peace formula”. Moscow was to be diplomatically isolated and weakened. This has proved impossible. Influential states from the Global South, not least Brazil, India, China and South Africa, either pulled out in advance or announced that they would be sending experts not – as Western leaders wanted – prestigious heads of state and government.

“Peace requires both parties”

In fact the number of willing participants remained extremely low for a long time. An embarrassment was only avoided when organisers significantly peddled back on the aim of the conference. Suddenly, the event was no longer to be centred on support for the whole of Zelenskyy’s “peace formula”. Shortly before conference commencement, Swiss government circles trimmed down the agenda to focus on a few less contentious elements of the formula: enabling agricultural exports across the Black Sea, ensuring nuclear safety, and arranging prisoners exchanges.[6] These points are also found in China’s twelve-point plan “on the Political Settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis”, put forward by Beijing in February 2023. There is no dispute about their necessity. Another lesson learnt is that, as many have stated, future diplomacy must abandon the practice of not inviting Russia to a meeting labelled “peace summit”. As Swiss President Viola Amherd admitted in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 7 June, “Peace requires both parties at the table.” “Russia could,” she continued, “also be present at a possible follow-up conference.”[7]

Choosing electioneering over a broken peace summit

Only when the organisers stepped back from Zelenskyy’s “peace formula” and signalled a willingness to invite Russia to future peace negotiations did the number of registrations for the Ukraine conference at the Swiss Bürgenstock Resort increase. At the weekend, it was announced that 92 of the 160 invited states would be present at the meeting, but only 57 came with heads of state and government. The latter were, of course, mainly leaders from Europe and from close Western allies, such as Japan and Singapore. There was a move to lure the presidents of Brazil, India and Turkey to neighbouring Italy with an invitation to the G7 summit. This would have made easy for them to visit Switzerland immediately afterwards. But it did not work out that way: all three travelled to the G7 summit and then flew straight home from Apulia. Not even the President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, who has become highly dependent on the United States, chose to attend the Ukraine conference, although Zelenskyy had recently travelled to Manila specifically to persuade him to come.[8] With key states of the Global South being represented at best by foreign ministers or just ministerial officials, US President Joe Biden eventually preferred a campaign meeting in California to the trip to Switzerland.

No progress without compromises

Western governments also suffered a severe setback when it came to the content of talks at the euphemistically billed “peace summit”. Some Western politicians continued to act as hardliners. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, for example, declared that Russia would have to withdraw its armed forces from all territories that were once Ukrainian, even if this may seem “unrealistic” at the moment. Moscow, he insisted, would have to pay reparations.[9] But Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman did not attend), made it clear that serious peace talks would mean “difficult compromises”. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan added to the criticism of the Swiss event, saying that it should have been “more results-oriented” by inviting Russia.[10]

Heavyweights refuse to engage

The final declaration focused on the three elements mentioned above, i.e. Black Sea access for food exports, nuclear safety and prisoner exchanged. But even here, it only took into account Ukrainian, not Russian, interests, and will hardly serve as a foundation for further talks. The “joint communiqué” was also signed by only 78 states, of which 42 are from Europe. Only eleven signatures came from African nations, for example. Most significantly, the heavyweights of the Global South refused to sign the document. They include India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And, for its part, China did not even take part in the conference. So the aim of putting Ukraine in “a position of strength” was missed by a mile. It has once again been shown that the West is no longer able to mobilise global majorities for its strategic plans, despite the utmost effort and pressure.


[1] See also: Der Übergang zur Diplomatie (II).

[2] See also: Vom Schlachtfeld zum Verhandlungstisch.

[3], [4] See also: Die dritte Verhandlungsrunde.

[5] See also: Die Erweiterung des Schlachtfelds und Einstieg in den Dritten Weltkrieg.

[6] Mehr als 90 Staaten: Ukraine-Friedensgipfel in der Schweiz beginnt. handelsblatt.com 15.06.2024.

[7] “Für Frieden braucht es beide Parteien am Tisch”. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.06.2024.

[8] Zelenskyy says Philippines to participate in peace conference. voanews.com 03.06.2024.

[9], [10] Jamey Keaten, Aamer Madhani: World leaders meet in Switzerland to discuss a Ukraine peace roadmap. Russia is notably absent. apnews.com 15.06.2024.